Like A Love Story

Like A Love Story by Abdi Nazemian is a beautiful and brutal love letter to what it meant to be a gay teen in the 1980s. The book tells passionately the ecstasy of first love, the discovery of one’s own identity, the fear of illness, and the rage and activism in the face of systemic injustice and indifference. The story was addictive, heartbreaking, and full of hope all at once.

But what is Like a Love Stoy, exactly?

It starts with Reza. Reza is an Iranian immigrant from Toronto by way of Tehran. He and his mother move to New York to settle in with their new stepfamily. Along with all these changes, he knows that he’s gay and he struggles against it. It’s 19899 and all he can see in his future is informed by images of sickness and death brought on by the AIDs crisis in the news. He fears death and is sure that being true to himself will kill him.

Upon entering his new school he befriends Judy, an aspiring fashion designer. When she meets Reza, she’s head over heels for him. Art is Judy’s best friend and the only openly gay person in the school. Reza is both entranced and fearful of his feelings towards him. 

Both Judy and Art are involved in the local ACT UP organization headed by Judy’s uncle, Stephan. They both look up to him and anxious of the remaining time they have with him since he’s slowly succumbing to AIDs. 

There are a lot of layers in this book. The narrative itself alternates between Reza’s, Judy’s and Art’s point of view. There’s an intimacy to their experience conveyed through the prose. This makes certain points in the narrative visceral and uncomfortable. You feel keenly the emotions of each of these characters and I would argue that that’s where the beating heart of this story rests. The rawness I often felt sat with me in a very good way. 

With that said, it’s an admittingly heavy read. Dark parts of recent history are discussed and shown in all their ugliness. Not just AIDs itself but the indifference shown by the public and the powers that be. The characters in one way or another confront this ugliness but even here, there are signs of cautious hope. It’s a history that needs to be seen. Not just the disease itself but the struggle to bring awareness. It shined a light on an organization that I was only aware of vaguely and has inspired me to look deeper into the history. 

I personally think this is a must-read not just for people who’d like a thoughtful teen romance but readers looking for an inspiring story about identity and a history lesson in LGBTQA activism. It’s for these reasons and more that I loved this book.  

Where You Can Find the Book

Goodreads

Indiebound (Hardcover) // Indiebound (Paperback)

Or your local library! Hey, that’s where I found my copy 🙂

Why I Love the Dread Nation Series

The day I came squealing and squalling into the world was the first time someone tried to kill me.

That’s the line that begins this series and I fell hook, line and sinker.

I’m ashamed to admit that it took me way too long to jump onto the Dread Nation train. I first saw the cover at the Barnes & Noble I worked at last year but didn’t give much thought to it. It was a stocking shift at 7 in the morning so my brain was caffeine deprived and stupid. Besides, I tend to be late on most hype trains anyway.

I officially picked up this book last year, my steps inadvertently guided by a blog post by P. Djeli Clark, author of The Haunting of Tram Car 015 (which I also loved by the way!).

Dread Nation is a fantastic book that centers black people in history. When it comes to most fiction (or history, for that matter) that discusses black people in the antebellum period up to the 20th century, they’re usually brutalized under slavery. Those stories are important to tell but sometimes a girl needs a little variety in her historical fiction. 

The Dread Nation universe is revisionist history. Dead people rise up from the ground in the midst of civil war and disrupt life as people know it. Society has to adapt to meet this undead threat. Slavery, as a formal institution, started to fall in place and was replaced with new schools to train black and Indian children to fight against the dead. Most of these children are taken away from their homes when they are around 12 years of age. Girls are raised as Attendants to protect white ladies against the dead and also protect their honor in these trying times.

Jane McKeene is one of these ladies who attends Miss Preston’s school in Baltimore. She hopes to pave her own future with the skills learned at Miss Preston’s and make her way back home to her mother and Aunt Aggie at the Rose Hill plantation. But then the good families in Baltimore start disappearing and things go sour fast and the characters travel Westward Ho!

I won’t spoil too much from the first book. You desperately need to read it for yourself. It has racial commentary, drama, and thrills tied in a nice western package. It immediately takes you into the world of these characters. It’s amazing seriously.

Deathless Divide expands on the story of the first and adds multiple layers of depth to it. There’s the value of friendship in a world that you’re just trying to survive, the follies of science, hubris, and tales of vengeance as the story more fully embraces the westerns the story gives homage to. It still has all the bloody horror and grotesque zombies wondering around but they’re less of a threat sometimes with the things that humans do to each other. 

I can’t express how much I love this series. Please read it.

Opposite of Always

Time Loops & Paradoxes, oh my!

At my job, I’ve been challenged to read middle-grade and young adult novels for some friendly competition. In these last few weeks, I’ve read a ton of interesting titles. I tend to pick up books that obviously has its heart on its sleeve (I Wish You All the Best) or something with a rather quirky high concept. 

Enter The Opposite of Always.

I love when a narrative plays with time. It’s why I’m such a diehard for Doctor Who and Russian Doll. But that’s not all The Opposite of Always is. If that were the case, I would find the narrative tedious as the reader is forced to see the same events over and over again. 

Jack King falls in love. He has the most amazing months with Kate Edwards but then she dies. But then he gets another chance to save her when he travels back to the moment they met on the stairs. 

Each step back in narrative provides another layer to the story. There’s the love story. There’s Jack’s friendships with Jillian and Franny. There’s Jack’s unrequited feelings for Jillian. There’s Franny’s relationship with his father. There’s Jack’s obsession in getting it right. When he thinks he gets it right, he fails in other ways time and time again. Seeing how Jack’s decisions influence these events and his relationships kept me hooked into the story. 

Now, was there a bit of tedium. I can’t deny that. Though each loop was different, we did end up going through some of the same events. This book could’ve been 50 pages shorter admittingly. 

But the heart of this story, Jack’s love for Kate and his willingness to do anything to set things right kept me reading. He’s not perfect. He makes a ton of mistakes. But seeing him push through and how ardent he feels about all the people close to him just had me cheering for him.

My Rating:

[Goodreads Summary:]

When Jack and Kate meet at a party, bonding until sunrise over their mutual love of Froot Loops and their favorite flicks, Jack knows he’s falling—hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends, Jillian and Franny, and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack.

But then Kate dies. And their story should end there.

Yet Kate’s death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind.

Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he’ll take it. Even if that means believing in time travel. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do to save the people he loves.

City of Saints & Thieves [Review]

CityofSaintandThievesThe City of Saints and Thieves is a thrilling YA murder-mystery that takes place in bustling Sangui City. Tina and her mother, Anju, are Congolese refugees who flee to Kenya as different warring factions start terrorizing the region. Her mother takes up employment as a maid on the estate of Roland Greyhill, one of the city’s most prominent business leaders. That is until she’s murdered under mysterious circumstances.

The story starts five years later.  Tina’s now a thief among Goonda ranks, a gang that operates in the city’s underbelly. She’s hell-bent on revenge against Greyhill believing him responsible for her mother’s death.  During an operation for the dirt to ruin him, Tina’s caught red-handed and learns that not all is as it appears. The story is searching for the truth behind her mother, her own origins, and the machinations of greater forces that frame it all.

I have to admit that this book is quite different from YA books I’ve read in the past. Near the end, I kept being shocked back to the realization that all the murder, human rights abuses, and other really risqué themes were being discussed in a YA novel. The central conflict and drama from the story draw from real-life horrors and international abuses. Things like violence against women, the ways greed and corporate interest work in tandem to tear nations apart, and how young men enter into the culture of violence and toxic masculinity due to the circumstances surrounding the violence they’re raised in caught me off guard. I would expect topics like these in hard-hitting documentaries, traumatic memoirs or blockbuster dramas. I’m not saying that I didn’t think YA could cover these topics. This is just the first time I’ve encountered them in this genre.

With all that being said, I think this book does an excellent job of tackling them. The author has clearly shown her knowledge and research in these areas. According to Natalie C. Anderson’s bio, she’s worked extensively with the United Nations and non-government organizations with refugee resettlement efforts. That work definitely comes through here and she has given the reader an entertaining story to boot. I swear I breezed through the last 200 pages of this thing. I couldn’t put it down because the story just became a series of stunning realizations, heart-stopping suspense, and brilliant action sequences.

The characters were…decent. They had very likable personalities and their motivations, particularly Tina’s, were very clear throughout the narrative. There were even some great character interactions between various members of the cast.

It’s just that…I didn’t quite connect with them. When I pick up a book, I really want to feel for a character and their struggle. Though this book had its moments, sometimes the fast pace-ness of the plot and the leaps in narrative got in the way of that especially as I saw cliche character moments manifesting themselves in the little details (tough as nails narrator who learns how to trust, a supportive gay friend where no other LGBTQ person can be seen, a hate/distrust relationship to love…) Each one wouldn’t both me on their own and it’s not too distracting but at moments I caught myself taking notice of them.

There’s also a strange dynamic between two major people in the cast that I wasn’t quite on board with. Slight spoiler warning, it seems like a romance was more or less shoehorned in the last few chapters that didn’t make logical sense to me. It doesn’t majorly impact the plot but I was more or less bewildered when it did come up.

Otherwise, this is a really good action-packed story. If you want to read a unique YA story with lots of intrigue, I say pick this one up!

 

 

My Rating:

 

3 half stars