Book Reviews Books

“What We Devour” by Linsey Miller is a bite-sized anti-capitalist snack

I like books with a bite. Right off the bat, What We Devour by Linsey Miller is all teeth, with its sharpest canines sinking into the same topics found in classic works like Émile Zola’s Germinal. The key to the classics—the quality classics at least—is class, class politics that is. And What We Devour is the appetizer of a full-course meal in anti-capitalist class politics. If this is the future of young adult fantasies, then the next generation is in for a real treat.

Lorena Adler is a dualwright, meaning she is one of only a few who hold the power of the banished gods, the Noble and the Vile. While she’s content to spend her days as an undertaker in a small town, that all changes when the vilewright crown prince arrives to arrest her best friend’s father. Lorena strikes a deal with him, only to uncover a much more nefarious plot: unjust inequalities within her country’s class structures. Oh, and also, an evil that threatens to destroy her world as she knows it.

The fact that Lorena is asexual is just the cherry on top of a sundae served in the first course of an elaborate meal. I call What We Devour the first course because there are so many ingredients Linsey Miller can continue to play with, I can’t imagine she’s not already well underway on the second book in this series. But back to Lorena.

I grew up in a time where it was more common to hear a spiky underwater sea critter labeled asexual than a human person. When I first described myself as asexual in college, it felt like I could finally explain something that seemed unexplainable. Now, I’m happy to replace the photos of spikey sea creatures adorning my ace shrine in favor of fanart of Lorena, because she is impeccable as ace representation.

For many years, there was barely any overt asexual representation in media, which is why there are still so many misconceptions about asexuality. Most people still cannot fathom the fact that ace people can be in relationships and even have sex while still identifying as ace. While Lorena is here to clear this up for everyone, her sexuality is the sous chef in the kitchen that is her character. And that’s how it should be.

More than that, Lorena is a compelling, fully-fledged protagonist I couldn’t help but root for. She’s very vocal about the injustices she sees in her society and makes choices to help those in the bottom class despite the fact that she has to go against people she knows and loves. Throughout her story, she comes to terms with who she is and stands by her beliefs, even when that means eating the rich becomes less of a quirky idea and more of a save-the-world strategy.

I will say Lorena could have spent more time with some of the more interesting characters rather than some of the flattest, but I understand this choice was made to make the above clear. Sometimes you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. If this had been the case, it might have spoiled our appetite for the platter of rich people Linsey Miller serves up as an hors d’oeuvre.

If you don’t have time to read the Communist Manifesto, What We Devour will do just fine. Especially because there’s interesting world-building and magic in What We Devour that’s unlike any I’ve seen before—two aspects I do find lacking in the Communist Manifesto. How power affects class structures and how the powerful use their power to keep the working class in line are conversations that translate well from the world in the story to the real world we live in.

My biggest problem with What We Devour is that the second book isn’t already published. In this first book, there were too many cooks in the kitchen who thought they were cooks but were actually just people standing in Lorena’s kitchen. Now that they’re [redacted], I’m ready to see the real cooks whip up a feast to end all feasts.

I tip my toque to you, Linsey Miller. Let the record show, I’m ready to devour the second installment in this apocalyptic fantasy series.

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Book Reviews Books Pop Culture

How The Nature of Witches pulled at my heartstrings in the best way

When I first started reading The Nature of Witches I made sure to avoid any summaries or blurbs. I wanted to fall in eyes wide open, and fall in love with its magical world. I have to admit, Rachel Griffin did not disappoint. If you are looking for a modern tale of witches and climate change, that makes you laugh out loud and cry along with the protagonist, then this is the right book for you.

Clara Densmore is an Everwitch. She is the first Everwitch in over a hundred years to be born. While most witches have their powers tied to one specific season, Everwitches change along with them, maintaining their powers throughout the year. In other words, Clara does not have to wait for the sun to shine on her during her season. But changing along with the seasons has an effect on Clara and her depth of feeling as well. When a new professor with his apprentice, Sang, moves to her Eastern magic school, Clara will have to face her deepest fears and her magic in a desperate attempt to fight against unnatural weather phenomena.

The Nature of Witches deals with climate change in a way that is very straightforward. The Shaders, or people born without magic, know that there is a balance with the earth that they should respect. However, even with the Witches all around the world cautioning against challenging the limits of what nature can do, Shaders keep on building. Everything has a limit. And in this world, as well as in ours, that limit has been reached. Very similar to what happens on our planet, strange heatwaves appear in the middle of winter in The Nature of Witches. Sudden spring tornadoes occur in the fall.

To say that this reminded me of the abnormal heatwave in late October last year is not a stretch. Even after a year of restrictions on traveling and movement of people, pollution levels remain high. The balance that is understood by witches in The Nature of Witches finds its broken echoes in the reality checks our planet keeps giving us. How many of us wish we could have a magical solution to climate change and melting polar caps. And certainly, this is one of the main themes in Griffin’s book, and the heartbreaking description of how nature is just out of balance rings true beyond the written pages.

The Nature of Witches tugs at your heartstrings in another, more personal way as well. Clara, as an Everwitch, is very powerful. But as Spider-Man would say, “with great powers come great responsibilities.” This is certainly true for the young protagonist of the book. Clara’s personal story is about facing herself and her deepest fears, learning from the past to look towards her future.

Clara changes with her seasons. Her powers shift something in her, and as she accesses a new type of seasonal magic, her feelings too, follow her change. As the novel begins in summer, we see Clara describe it as the season where she feels the most, in the most passionate way. She knows what is coming with the beginning of the fall season, and even as she wants to cling to the summer version of herself, time does not excuse her. Time waits for no one, and so Clara has to go on.

This coming-of-age part of the novel I think speaks directly to all of us who are afraid of change. And yet, life teaches us that change is inescapable. You cannot delay the passage of seasons, and what change they bring with them. Growing up, moving out of your parents’ house, going to college in another town. All of these experiences and more make you into a different version of yourself. When I first moved abroad for work, I thought I too wouldn’t change as much. Maybe I would learn to save some money or try new life hacks. Instead, as the warmth of summer transformed into the chill of autumn first, and the poignant stabbing of winter second, I knew I was wrong. Change is scary at times, but it is something we should all learn to embrace.

The author’s website describes the book as “about heartbreaking power, the terror of our collapsing atmosphere, and the ways we unknowingly change our fate.” I loved The Nature of Witches because it pulls and tugs at your heartstrings in just the right way.

The worrying about climate change and the future mixes well with Clara’s personal story, into a perfect cocktail of heartbreak and self-realization. A magical insight into the idea of change, and what it brings us, in the good and in the bad. That’s The Nature of Witches in a nutshell. And to anyone who has been struggling with changing, or seeing themselves as different from yesterday’s you, I cannot recommend this book more.

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Books Pop Culture

When Dimple met Rishi is the adorable, Desi romance that you need in your life

I’m not super sentimental but I like a good romance every now and again. When “Dimple Met Rishi” has to be for me, one of the most cutest books ever. It is a teen rom-com infused with Bollywood which makes it so relateable to any South Asian.

This book follows Dimple; a 18 year-old high school graduate with plans to become a coder. She has typical Desi parents who are more concerned with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband”. Dimple’s mom is is forever hovering and trying to get Dimple to dress nicer or make more of an effort. Dimple however, has no interest in any of this. She somehow miraculously convinces her parents to let her attend a summer program for aspiring web designers.

Where she meets Rishi. Rishi is the absolute opposite of Dimple. He is the traditional “good child”; set for college and ready to find a wife. Rishi and Dimple’s parents agree for them to get married should they get along and Rishi is sent to the summer program to meet his future wife, an arrangement Dimple knows nothing about. It is a modern tale of an arranged marriage type of set up.

Their meeting goes as well as expected when Rishi meets headstrong Dimple. But after being partnered for a project they get to know each other better.

This is a light and hilarious modern romance that is incredibly cheesy – as is anything that has a Bollywood aspect. It is a coming of age story about two teens who are trying to balance their aspirations with those of their parents. It is a great insight into what most teenagers feel like with Desi parents.

I mean this book does have its cringey moments, it is sometimes too sweet. It is also pretty predictable, you know they are going to end up together from the start and everything ties up pretty conveniently.

But I just adored this book – as an Indian it resonated with me.

Dimple is written to be pretty fierce, she wants to break out of the restrictions that her culture puts upon her. I mean she calls out her mom’s misogynistic views right at the beginning and I think that was what sold it for me. Her relationship with her mother reminded me a lot of the conversations I have had with my mom growing up regarding priorities, marriage and careers. Dimple knows what she wants in life and is determined to be more then just someone’s wife. I enjoyed reading her perspective especially as she not portrayed as an “emotional girl.”

 india trends yakub memon marriages arranged GIF

Rishi, what a sweetheart. I really adored his character. I mean, he is the good child I could never be. But what I really enjoyed reading was his relationship with his culture. Rishi is Indian and proud of it but not in an arrogant way. He knows what he is and isn’t ashamed to make other people feel uncomfortable should they question it. He is sweet, patient and not overbearing which is so nice to see in a male character.

It was refreshing to read a tale where the woman is career-orientated and the man is the hopeless romantic.

Although the book addressed arranged marriages, it wasn’t the stereotypical “marry this person or we disown you” story line. Both parents were trying to hold onto traditions and cultures from their time but were not crossing the line. It is something I wish I could have explained to my peers growing up; that arranged marriage now, for some of us is a lot more chill.

Together they evened each other out and bought out the best sides to each other. There was none of that destructive, dramatic “love” that we see so often portrayed in romances. This was a healthy relationship that was so cute to watch blossom. I adored all of the family dynamics and well-written friendships.

When Dimple Met Rishi is hilarious and so light-hearted. It is one of those books to read on a lazy Sunday morning. Sandhya Menon wrote an incredible tale of first love that I could finally relate to,

This book is what I wish I had as a Desi teenager.

Books Pop Culture

Muslim Terrorist Main Character? Aw, hell naw!

A few days ago, a blurb about a book titled American Terrorist by Todd Strasser went up and caused an uproar in the book community. Here’s the blurb of the book:

Khalil feels trapped. No matter how hard he works to assimilate or to be a good American boy, he hits a wall. He’s called names and is profiled daily. Although his best friend has aspirations to build an app and make both of them teenage millionaires, Khalil finds his future bleak. Especially since his parents had to move back to their country of origin to assist the family they’ve left behind, and he’s left living with his older, more radical brother.

As Khalil struggles to continue being the star student, he becomes more bitter about his situation, and he begins searching for a way to make peace with himself. He wants to take action like his brother has. Like they are called to do. The people who have created this system of oppression must pay.”

There are so many things wrong with this book. As most people stated on Twitter, this book description is so beyond the realm of okay and throws the whole “We Need Diverse Books” movement beneath the table. I have no idea how a young adult book that stereotypes a community of one billion people is being published during a time when so many minority authors have pushed back against these types of books.

I’m so done with authors who decide to write about a minority group and clearly know nothing about the group. I’m not against authors writing about characters whose backgrounds are entirely different than their own but for the love of god and all things chocolate, please do your research.

[bctt tweet=”I’m so done with authors who decide to write about a minority and know nothing.” username=”wearethetempest”]

If Todd had consulted actual Muslims and reached out to Muslim beta readers, I’m sure they would have told him that having a book with a Muslim character who wants “wants to take action like his brother has. Like they are called to do”  and who thinks “the people who have created this system of oppression must pay” is highly offensive and does nothing but perpetuate stereotypes.  Also, what the hell does the phrase “the people who created this system of oppression” mean? It seems this book is playing into the us versus them (the West vs. Muslims) narrative that’s thrown all over the place and is so incredibly misinformed.

[bctt tweet=”Or maybe a Muslim teenager will pick up this book and feel further marginalized. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

Authors, especially those of young adult books, have a responsibility to truthfully portray the cultures that they are depicting. A number of the teenagers who may pick up this book will have never met a Muslim before and this book could potentially be the first book they have read with a Muslim main character. Or maybe a Muslim teenager will pick up this book and feel even further marginalized. There are certain questions that author Todd Strasser really needed to think through before producing this book and that his editor at Simon & Schuster should have considered before approving this book to be published. A few of the questions that come to mind are: what kind of message will a book about a Muslim kid who wants to make “oppressors” “pay” send to someone who has never met a Muslim?; What message does it send to the Muslim high schooler who only ever sees himself represented in books as a terrorist?; How does this book help a Muslim kid who is already bullied for being different?; Does this book cause more harm than good? Based on the description of this book, these questions really haven’t been considered and all likelihood, this book only only further hurt an already misunderstood community.

[bctt tweet=” I want books that showcase Muslims but don’t emphasize stereotypes.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I have a couple of friends who said that maybe this book is just showing the process of being radicalized and isn’t really trying to paint a negative image of Muslims. I don’t fully buy that argument because even if the goal of this book is show how terrorist become terrorists, the very fact that it’s about a Muslim teenage boy who becomes a terrorist is reinforcing a stereotype. There are very very few young adult books with Muslim main characters out there so when I do see one being released, I’m always looking for ones that don’t discuss topics that are traditionally surrounding Muslims. In the news, Muslim men are always discussed in the context of terrorism and Muslim women in the context of arranged marriage — however,  there’s so much more to Muslims than those flashy headlines. Chaplain Khalid Latif recently released a piece on the New York Times about purchasing his first dining table. I loved that piece because it offered a perspective of Muslims that is usually not highlighted in media — Muslims buy dining tables guys! I want books that showcase Muslims but don’t feel the need to emphasize stereotypes surrounding Islam.

[bctt tweet=”I don’t frame every minute of my life in religion. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

I want books with Muslim characters that showcase the reality of what it is to be Muslim, which means that the book should not only focus on their being Muslim. Believe it or not, I don’t wake up in the morning, look in the mirror while getting ready and think “I’m a Muslim woman who is putting on mascara” or “I am a Muslim woman who is brushing her teeth.” I don’t frame every minute of my life in religion. Instead, in the morning I think things like “damn, I look like hell” or “gah, need coffee now!.” I want books with Muslim main characters who like to bake cupcakes, fall in and out of love, or buy freakin’ dining room tables. I don’t need any more books that sensationalize Muslims and just further make them out to be “the other.”

[bctt tweet=”The rule is simple: Get it right or don’t publish.” username=”wearethetempest”]

For future authors who want to write about Muslims, or any minority groups for that matter, and for publishing houses who want to publish that book, please do your research first and make sure that the book offers an accurate portrayal of the minority group. The rule is simple: Get it right or don’t publish.