“How You Grow Wings” by Rimma Onoseta – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Sisters Cheta and Zam couldn’t be more different. Cheta, sharp-tongued and stubborn, never shies away from conflict—either at school or at home, where her mother fires abuse at her. Timid Zam escapes most of her mother’s anger, skating under the radar and avoiding her sister whenever possible. In a turn of good fortune, Zam is invited to live with her aunt’s family in the lap of luxury. Jealous, Cheta also leaves home, but finds a harder existence that will drive her to terrible decisions. When the sisters are reunited, Zam alone will recognize just how far Cheta has fallen—and Cheta’s fate will rest in Zam’s hands.

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We dive right into this book with Zam walking home from school – and in short order we meet her whole family, learn about the family dynamics, and learn about some of their local customs. Zam and Cheta live with their parents in a small town in modern day Nigeria.

As mentioned in the description at top, Zam gets out of her anger-filled home by moving in with her rich aunt and uncle. She gets this proposal because of how well she’s doing at school, and Cheta immediately resents that she was never offered this deal.

Their uncle is super rich (in the oil business), and life at his house takes some time to adjust to. There are two other teenage girls in the house – Kaira, Zam’s cousin, and Ginika, a family friend who often stays with them while her parents are traveling abroad. Kaira is initially standoffish, but Ginika is sociable. They both harbor anger at their mothers, and the girls all eventually bond over this common problem.

Cheta comes to visit for one week. She has recently graduated from high school, and comes with the idea that she will ingratiate herself to their aunt and get a job with her. It doesn’t work. She was already so set on leaving home, though, that she does it anyway, without a real plan.

After an incident leaves Zam’s aunt and uncle feeling shaken, they decide to move – with all three girls – to London. Kaira is finally able to start breaking down the wall that had grown up between her and her mom, before the girls leave for boarding school. Another family member who is helping them there also sheds some light on Zam and Cheta’s family, and how the two girls actually got along better when they were younger. Zam feels compelled to reach out, but gets no answer.

On a trip home for Christmas, Zam sees her family again, after months of being away. Cheta also rolls back into town from Benin, where she’s been keeping her distance. Their mother treats Cheta like she is basically disowned already, but Zam still wants to try to help her sister. There is one startling revelation near the end of the book, and Zam has to make a drastic decision. Finally, both girls head back out into their separate worlds.

I don’t want to reveal too much about the ending, but I will say that I’ll be thinking about it for quite some time!

This compelling Young Adult novel comes out today, August 9th. I was able to read an advanced copy through Netgalley, and the publisher, Algonquin Young Readers.


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“Wild is the Witch” by Rachel Griffin – Review

By: Angie Haddock


When eighteen-year-old witch Iris Gray accidentally enacts a curse that could have dire consequences, she must team up with a boy who hates witches to make sure her magic isn’t unleashed on the world.

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Iris and her mom are both witches. Iris’ best friend back home, Amy, was a witch, too. But she got into trouble, and the witch council took her magic away. Iris was present, but the council determined that she was not involved. Not everyone trusted her after that incident, though, and eventually she and her mom moved away to start over. Her dad did not come with them, which causes Iris to not want to get close to new people. She is especially guarded about being a witch. If even her own dad ended up not being able to handle it, why would other people?

Their new home is in the Pacific Northwest, where they run a wildlife refuge. It’s perfect for them, as their magic is one that focuses on animals. An old friend of her mom’s is also in the area, and runs a restaurant. They’ve established a good “home” there.

Pike Adler, a college student studying ornithology, is interning at the refuge. Not only is he cocky, but he mentions more than once that he hates witches. This makes Iris feel threatened. She doesn’t want her or her mom’s lives disrupted again, not when they seem to have found the perfect place. So she writes a curse for Pike. Now, she wasn’t really intending on cursing him – the plan was to write it out and not use it. Like some people write angry letters they don’t ever send. She means to bind the curse to a bundle of herbs, and burn it. No one gets hurt, right?

Except that an owl swoops down while she’s doing this ritual, and now the owl carries the curse. And then he flies away.

Obviously, Iris is panicking and wants to go after the owl. She knows how much trouble she could cause with the curse out there in the wild, and she’s already had to witness her best friend lose her sense of magic. Her mom, not knowing about the curse part, agrees to let Iris track the owl and try to bring him back… if she takes Pike along. He is a bird expert in training, after all.

This is a YA book, so of course some romance blossoms during their adventures. And in fact, the ending is a little too happy to be believable, in my opinion. (It’s fine, it’s what the audience probably wants, but it’s not super realistic. But then again, it’s a book about magic, so…) But I enjoyed the adventures they have trying to get to the owl, nonetheless. The book takes place in the spring, but I felt like summer was still a great time to be reading about nature, hiking, and camping (and s’mores).

This book comes out today, August 2nd. I was able to read ahead thanks to the publisher, Sourcebooks, and NetGalley.


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“Getting to Good Riddance” by Jodie Eckleberry-Hunt – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Psychologist Jodie Eckleberry-Hunt, author of Move on Motherf*cker: Live, Laugh, and Let Sh*t Go, provides the tools to survive and thrive after a breakup in this empowering, BS-free guide… This seriously motivational guide utilizes salty straight talk, humor, cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, and positivity to get you to growth and recovery. Overcome self-defeat, smash the sh*t out of heartbreak, and get ready to move on, motherf*cker!

Goodreads


The full title of this one is “Getting to Good Riddance: A No-Bullsh*t Breakup Survival Guide.” I’m coming up on my seventh wedding anniversary, so having this one laying around caused a few looks! The first Advanced Reader Copy I reviewed for this blog was by Jodie Eckleberry-Hunt, though, and she graciously kept me on her email list for future releases. I love cultivating relationships with authors through my work here, so how could I resist reading her latest release?

Like in her previous release, the author explains the science behind her methodology in the first few chapters. These include using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), mindfulness, positive psychology, humor, and profanity to recognize negative self-talk and pivot away from it when it is not serving you.

I did find some of the content of these chapters repetitive, especially when it came to explaining her “MOMF” theory. Maybe that’s because I read the book on that one already? But, the idea is to use profanity as a source of both humor and venting. In this one, she repeatedly mentions that it’s not meant to be derogatory toward yourself. I feel like, if someone is uncomfortable with swearing, they probably won’t pick up a book with the word “bullshit” on the cover. Just my two cents.

The rest of the chapters tackle various issues that could come up in/after a breakup. We start in the immediate aftermath, when you’re in survival mode. Then, we’re introduced to the steps of the grief process, which are likely to come into play here. Next, she introduces us to different theories on what love actually is and isn’t. Next are chapters on specific cases: infidelity, and dealing with “bad actors” (narcissists, sociopaths, dependents, abusers). Then come the chapters on moving forward: creating boundaries, preparing/planning to leave a bad situation, finding peace, learning to live within our own happiness, and realizing our messed up core beliefs that got us into the situation (so we don’t repeat the same mistakes).

If you are looking for a tangible way to help a friend who is reeling from a breakup or divorce – and that friend has a good tolerance for swearing and humor – this would be a nice little gift. I’d think of it as a way to support growth without inserting yourself directly in the friend’s personal business.

This book comes out today, July 26th, 2022. Thanks to Jodie Eckleberry-Hunt for the opportunity to read it ahead of time.

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“Upgrade” by Blake Crouch – Review

By: Angie Haddock


At first, Logan Ramsay isn’t sure if anything’s different.

The truth is, Logan’s genome has been hacked. And there’s a reason he’s been targeted for this upgrade. A reason that goes back decades to the darkest part of his past, and a horrific family legacy.

Goodreads


Ready for some sci-fi action?

I know nothing about DNA and genetic hacking beyond the basics we all learned watching the first “Jurassic Park” movie (shout out to Jeff Goldblum, just because). But this one was still a fun ride, and I think the author explains it just enough to keep you following the story.

The story takes place in the mid twenty-first century, so only a few decades from now. Logan’s mother used to be a leading geneticist, and she used her knowledge to try to stop a crop failure in China… but it all went awry, and billions died. Since then, genetic modifications have been outlawed. Logan Ramsay, our main character, works for the GPA – Gene Protection Agency – which watches out for any potential genetic work being done “under the radar.”

Needless to say, there are definitely still scientists working on genetic modifications. And there are still consumers interested in buying their work for various reasons.

What Logan doesn’t anticipate is that his own mother, who supposedly died years ago, is still alive and still working on an intense set of modifications… to humans. After he is unwittingly modified, he finds out that his older sister was also given this same “upgrade.” They find their mother’s suicide note (video, in this case), and learn that she wants to enhance humanity’s intelligence so that humans have a shot at stopping climate change before it’s too late.

His sister, Kara, sides with their mother. Logan does not. Seeing as they are both enhanced – both mentally and physically – this sets the scene for some hard-fought battles.

In addition to all the action, there are various ethical questions at play. There is the obvious one of free will, and people being modified who didn’t necessarily want to. But also, the modifications don’t work on some people, and instead they become ill. So, how many people’s deaths are an acceptable amount of “collateral damage?” And do humans really need more intelligence, or do they need more empathy?

Find the answers for yourself, as “Upgrade” hits shelves today, July 12th. I was able to read an advanced copy through NetGalley.


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“George Michael: A Life” by James Gavin – Review

By: Angie Haddock


The definitive biography of George Michael, offering an expansive look at the troubled life of the legendary singer, songwriter, and pop superstar.

Goodreads


If you’ve been following us for a while, you’re probably aware that I love biographies. And a juicy celebrity biography is always welcome! But I have to be honest – this one is a bit of a slog. The finished hardcover is expected to be over 500 pages!

I grew up in the 80s, and don’t remember a time when George Michael wasn’t famous. So it did surprise me to learn that he was only 19 when Wham! signed their first record contract. But I do feel like that explains some of his later woes – the drug use, the hiding his sexuality (while singing songs like “I Want Your Sex”). He was in the public eye before he had really figured out who he was.

George Michael is his stage name; he was born in England as Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, to a working class Greek immigrant father and a British mother. His dad was always kind of a tough guy, which is one reason Michael hid his sexuality – he didn’t think his family would approve. He eventually did come out to one of his sisters, and his mom, before his public outing in the late 90s.

This sets up the ongoing dichotomy about him, which plays out many times over throughout this book: he wants public adoration and praise, but wants to keep everything about his own life “private.”

Michael had risen to the highest levels of fame and fortune very quickly and very early. Wham! had some big hits in the mid to late 80s, right at the time when music videos were becoming a mandatory part of getting a song up the pop charts. This meant that the band members’ images, clothes, hair, etc. were every bit as important as the songs themselves.

By all accounts (in this book, at least), George Michael could write and sing well, though. When he was young, at least, he had quite a wide vocal range. Some of his bandmates lament that he was so hung up on image, from the start. They also talk of him being a perfectionist and a control freak, however, who would tweak every aspect of a recording until he was totally happy with it. His work habits made him, at times, difficult to work with.

His solo career took off right after Wham! ended, but that star burned out quickly. This was another surprise to me… I guess I hadn’t realized that he was barely making new music past the mid 90s.

The biggest public scandal, which occurred in L.A. in 1998, is discussed around half way through this tome. The entire rest of his life was riddled with arrests and scandals, drugs and rehab, having his drivers license and US visa taken away, and so on. He did some recording, mostly at home. He did a few more tours, but eventually couldn’t leave Europe. He would often contribute songs to soundtracks or charity albums. He was largely considered a “has-been” by his forties.

On the other hand, he gave a lot away. He was constantly giving his “inner circle” lavish gifts, but he also gave a lot to charity. Some of his favorite causes were anti-war ones, LGBT ones, and ones that helped children. He also gave music away, often for use in albums or concerts helping these causes, and sometimes for soundtracks. He also liked to reach out and encourage up-and-coming young singers who were gay. He envied that they could be “out” from the beginning of their careers.*

Another fun tidbit: his appearance in a sketch in the 2011 Red Nose Day special was the inspiration for James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke!

This story was long, and its hero wasn’t always easy to empathize with. But that’s no fault of the author, James Gavin, who obviously amassed a ton of material and research here.

This book comes out today, June 28th. I was able to read an advance copy through NetGalley and the publisher, Abrams Books.

*According to The Trevor Project, LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers. If you are struggling and need to talk to someone, their site has resources for you. If you are in Nashville, please see the Oasis Center for local support.


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“The Final Strife” by Saara El-Arifi – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Sylah dreams of days growing up in the resistance, being told she would spark a revolution that would free the empire from the red-blooded ruling classes’ tyranny. That spark was extinguished the day she watched her family murdered before her eyes.

Goodreads


This is a thick fantasy book, and only the first in an intended trilogy. It reminds me a lot of N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, with a little bit of The Hunger Games thrown in. When the book has a map in the front, you know you’ll be doing some work!

In this land, everyone looks mostly the same on the outside – they are brown people, but their tattoos, clothes, etc. might differentiate them as one of three classes. But the real difference is underneath the skin, as these three classes are determined by blood color. Red for Embers, the ruling class; Blue for Dusters, the working class; and Clear for Ghostings, the servant class.

The Embers rule through four Wardens – Strength, Knowledge, Duty, and Truth. Every ten years, the Disciples of these four Wardens are promoted to be the new Wardens. Then new Disciples are chosen to train under them for the next ten years. They are chosen by holding a competition, which lasts over the course of several months.

We open with a storyteller, telling the story of The Sandstorm. About 20 years ago, twelve Ember babies were stolen overnight, and replaced with Duster babies. Most had been found and killed, but some wonder if any remain.

And then we meet Sylah. She is one of the Stolen, raised by Dusters to one day compete in the trials to become the Warden of Strength. But the training grounds of the Sandstorm were found and raided six years ago, when she was fifteen, and the people she was raised with were mostly killed. Since then, Sylah gets through her days by keeping herself drugged. She makes quick cash by fighting in an underground ring.

One night, her adoptive mother tells her that her real baby is being raised as the Warden of Strength’s daughter. In a drunken haze, Sylah decides to break into her quarters and see this other girl for herself. Thanks to some booby traps, though, the daughter of the Warden, Anoor, captures Sylah. Recognizing that she is on drugs, Anoor keeps her locked in her closet while she goes through withdrawals. Anoor has decided she wants to compete for the Disciple of Strength position, and, thinking Sylah is a trained assassin, she wants her to train her for the competition.

And y’all, this is just the first quarter or so of the book. Obviously, there are trainings, more withdrawal symptoms, competitions, and revelations on both sides as these two slowly begin to trust each other. We learn that there may be a new Sandstorm out there, reviving the old dream of overthrowing the Wardens. But whose win would be more effective in that pursuit: an Ember raised by Dusters, or a Duster raised by Embers?

There’s a lot to sink your teeth into here. If you’re in the mood to visit a juicy, in-depth, and sometimes violent fantasy world based on African lore – this one’s for you. “The Final Strife” comes out today, June 21st. I was able to read an advanced copy through NetGalley.


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“The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School” by Sonora Reyes – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Seventeen-year-old Yamilet Flores prefers drawing attention for her killer eyeliner, not for being the new kid at a mostly white, very rich, Catholic school. But at least here no one knows she’s gay, and Yami intends to keep it that way. After being outed by her crush and ex-best friend, she could use the fresh start.

Goodreads


This book has a lot going on, and it starts going in ways I didn’t expect at only about a third of the way into it! Per the author’s own note, though, there are trigger warnings for racism, homophobia, and suicidal ideation.

Our main character is Yamilet, who lives with her mom and her younger brother, Cesar. Her dad, who she was very close to, was deported to Mexico when she was ten years old.

When we meet them, Yami and Cesar are about to start a new school year at a new school. Obviously, this always comes with some nervousness… but moreso for Yami, who is gay but not out. In addition to that, she feels like she is poorer than most kids at the private school, and she’s one of very few non-white kids there. Her initial goal is to just stay out of trouble, but that doesn’t last long.

On her first day, she has a class with Bo, an Asian girl who is out and pretty bold about it. This confuses Yamilet, because on one hand she wants to befriend Bo and learn more about her… but on the other, can she do that without outing herself?

So, this brings up an interesting aspect of the book. In so many ways, it’s easier for people of all ages to be “out” now than in previous decades, but that doesn’t mean it’s equally easy for everyone. Of course, the religious nature of her new school is a deterrent, as is the fact that her mom is religious and makes gay jokes. With their dad already deported, Yami and Cesar also have a healthy fear of police or authorities of an “official” variety. There are a lot of reasons these kids want to protect the various identities that they see as being different from their classmates.

I don’t want to give away too much, but a lot happens during the course of the school year. Yamilet definitely gets closer to Bo, and learns that, even though she is more confident about her sexuality, she has her own struggles with her ethnic heritage. She also, unexpectedly, makes a friend of a popular jock who starts the year with a crush on her. She learns some unexpected things about her brother, clashes with a parent, and of course ends up becoming more confident in who she is.

This was such a good book. While I don’t share all of the heroine’s identities, I did switch from public to Catholic school – and that alone was intimidating! Yami and Cesar have so many other issues on their plates, and I really sympathized with them.

This YA novel comes out today, May 17th, from Harper Collins. I was able to read an advanced copy through Books Forward, and through Netgalley.

According to The Trevor Project, LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers. If you are struggling and need to talk to someone, their site has resources for you. If you are in Nashville, please see the Oasis Center for local support.


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“The Mad Girls of New York” by Maya Rodale – Review

By: Angie Haddock


In 1887 New York City, Nellie Bly has ambitions beyond writing for the ladies pages, but all the editors on Newspaper Row think women are too emotional, respectable and delicate to do the job. But then the New York World challenges her to an assignment she’d be mad to accept and mad to refuse: go undercover as a patient at Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum for Women.

Goodreads


While I was reading this one, several friends added it to their “to read” list on Goodreads – so, I think the world is hungry for more great historical fiction based on real life badass women. (I’ll call that the “Marie Benedict effect.”) How exciting!

Nellie Bly had worked as a reporter for a few years already, in Pittsburgh, but she eventually moved to New York City with hopes to work for one of the bigger papers. But just getting in the doors to get an interview proves hard for a woman, because women weren’t considered good choices for reporter jobs.

She’s been in the city for four months, and she’s struggling to pay her rent. She is also very aware that women who are considered “inconvenient” often end up in insane asylums, with no way to prove their sanity. So she needs to land on her feet, soon.

Which is how she comes up with the crazy plan – to act crazy. To see how easy it is to get herself locked up, and to report on the actual conditions and practices inside the asylum, which does not open its doors to reporters. Specifically, she aims to get inside the asylum on Blackwell’s Island, which is rumored to be the most inhumane. She does this “stunt” with the cooperation of the deputy editor of the New York World, who promises to get her out in a week or so.

She does get in, and is there for about 10 days. She meets other women, and of course, most are not really crazy at all – some are heartbroken and/or depressed, sick and in need of medical care their families couldn’t provide, foreign and unable to understand English, or maybe just poor (and therefore a nuisance).

The conditions are deplorable, and they are given no reasons to hope for more. They have to sit on hard benches all day and not talk or move. Nelly reasons that some of them may become insane while there, because they are given no mental or physical stimulation. It’s also freezing cold (she is there in October), and they don’t get enough to eat.

The title – “The Mad Girls of New York” – refers to the women of the asylum. But the story also follows some of Nellie’s acquaintances in the city, as well as her time before and after this assignment. Women trying to support themselves financially, and not just depending on a man to take care of them. And these girls could also be considered “mad” for their time (the 1880’s).

This whole scenario is based on actual events, which Bly wrote her own book about at the time (“Ten Days in a Mad-House“). The author used info from that book, but also based characters on other people and stories from that era.

If you’re a fan of historical fiction, I’d definitely recommend this one. Even though we know Nellie will get out eventually, the stakes still seem high for her comrades in the asylum. And there’s one more fun twist after she gets out, too.

This book comes out today, April 26th. I was able to read an advanced copy through the publisher and Netgalley.


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“Memphis” by Tara Stringfellow – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Unfolding over seventy years through a chorus of voices, Memphis weaves back and forth in time to show how the past and future are forever intertwined. It is only when Joan comes to see herself as a continuation of a long matrilineal tradition–and the women in her family as her guides to healing–that she understands that her life does not have to be defined by vengeance.

Goodreads


TW: Physical abuse and rape of a child.

This story follows one family through three generations. We first meet Hazel in the 1930s, when she is a teenager in Memphis. Later, she has two daughters, Miriam and August. Miriam also has two daughters, Joan and Mya. The story ends in the early 2000s, when Joan is about to graduate from high school.

The story alternates between the perspectives of Hazel, Miriam, August, and Joan. It is not told chronologically. There are other characters, of course – including Hazel’s husband Myron, Miriam’s husband Jax, and August’s son Derek. The house these women leave in – which Myron built – is almost a character of its own. And the neighborhood is filled with other strong characters, mostly women.

These characters live through many trying times, both in their personal lives and on a bigger scale. We see them continue lives at home while their husbands are off at war, participate in the Civil Rights Movement and react to the assassination of Dr. King, and have a personal connection to the events of September 11th.

As mentioned at top, some of the personal events they have to overcome could be upsetting to some readers. I think this was the hardest part of the book, for me. I was rooting for these characters, but also mad at some of the things that happened.

I expect to see this book on a lot of lists – it’s ripe for being an Oprah pick. (Full disclosure, I read it in the fall of 2021, so this is totally a guess from me.) The multi-generational, non-linear storytelling alone lends it a certain epic quality. And the situations discussed – even the ones I did not enjoy – are certainly real for some people. I think it’s a bit of a hard read, but maybe that’s exactly the point.

This book comes out today, April 5, 2022. I was able to read an advanced copy through NetGalley and the publisher, Random House Publishing Group.


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“Survive the Dome” by Kosoko Jackson – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Jamal Lawson just wanted to be a part of something. As an aspiring journalist, he packs up his camera and heads to Baltimore to document a rally protesting police brutality after another Black man is murdered.

But before it even really begins, the city implements a new safety protocol…the Dome. The Dome surrounds the city, forcing those within to subscribe to a total militarized shutdown. No one can get in, and no one can get out.

Goodreads


I was drawn to this book on NetGalley because it had a great-looking cover and title – and who doesn’t love some dystopian YA?

This one doesn’t take place in some far-off future, however. It takes place in today’s America, with much of our own history and current problems – but with one new invention that we don’t have (yet?): The Dome.

Our main character is Jamal, a gay black teen in Annapolis. He drives to Baltimore, where there are some BLM protests going on. The governor of Maryland has been wanting to test the new Dome invention, and the protests offer the perfect opportunity. Now, Jamal is trapped inside. Not only can the citizens not get in or out, but neither can any electronic information – cell calls and texts, emails, etc.

In addition to the Dome, there is one other new technology that the government/police unveil during their Dome experiment: the police have powerful suits of armor that are all linked. The officers wearing the suits are basically super-soldiers. The only caveat is that the suits are pretty bulky, which makes them a little sluggish.

Jamal falls in with Marco, a wannabe hacker with contacts in Nemesis (analogous to the real world’s Anonymous). Marco is a pretty good hacker himself, with high ideals of changing the world, but he hasn’t been accepted into Nemesis because of his criminal record.

They also team up with Catherine, who is just a little older than them. She just got out of basic training, so her military background is useful. At first, she is cagey about herself – how does anyone know who they can trust in this situation? – but eventually we learn that Catherine is fighting to find her parents, who have been taken by the government.

The action here is non-stop, which makes this book move fast. Each chapter picks up right where the last stops, with virtually no down time. The entire story takes place over just a couple days.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but I will say that Jamal seems too idealistic at times. He often puts himself in harm’s way to save anyone he comes across, including random people he sees on the streets. He’s precious, but almost too precocious to be a survivor in this harsh environment.

The views on police and government in the story are BLEAK. I’m not even saying they’re out of place, mind you, but they obviously come from a very frustrated place. We see leaders as the villains in most dystopian stories, though – think “The Hunger Games” – so it is really only striking in that these leaders are supposed to represent the ones we have in our present times.

This was a fast-paced read that has a lot of social commentary about the times we live in. It comes out today, March 29th, and I was able to read it ahead of time through NetGalley.


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