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.

Support local bookstores and get What We Devour on Bookshop.

Want more book content? Follow our Bookstagram for international giveaways, exclusive excerpts, and author interviews!

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!

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.

Support local bookstores and get The Nature of Witches on Bookshop.

Want more book content? Follow our Bookstagram for international giveaways, exclusive excerpts, and author interviews!

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!

Books Pop Culture

10 amazing young adult novels featuring women like us

Even though I’m 22 years old, I still read  YA books religiously. Some people dismiss YA books because of the dramatic, know-it-all teens, shallow plots, and love triangles; but I embrace them for these very reasons. Like a lot of folks, I use books and stories as a form of escapism. I love getting lost in the teenage love stories and magical quests. Everything doesn’t have to have an intricate plot, though many of them do. I just want to be entertained!

That said, I do have one complaint about the genre that I’m sure many of you can relate to. The YA genre, like much of the publishing industry, seems to push aside diverse characters written by diverse authors or for diverse audiences.

Front and center of most YA novels (especially the popular ones) are protagonists who are white or racially ambiguous. Meanwhile, the characters of color, if there are any, are always in the role of the token friend.

When we finally do get our own stories, they’re centered around the struggles of our past. While I’m aware that these stories are important, and need to be told,  we are so much more than our hardships. Sometimes, I want to read books where the women of color get to fall in love, save the world or just be completely carefree as our white counterparts.

That’s why I’ve made it a priority to support YA books that feature complex people of color in the shining lead role, however few and far in between they are. Keep reading for 10 awesome YA books written with women of color in mind.

1. “The Sun Is Also A Star,” Nicola Yoon

The Sun Is Also A Star

Natasha is a 16-year-old Jamaican girl who doesn’t believe in fate—not that she has time to. Because her father got into a car crash, her family is 12 hours away from getting deported to Jamaica. So, she uses her time left in the U.S to make one last plea to save her family, and the life she isn’t ready to leave behind. Daniel, on the other hand, is a poet who wants to go against his parent’s wishes and pursue a career in the arts instead of academia. He’s been accepted into Yale and as a reward, his parents have given him the day off from school. What will happen when their paths cross?

Buy here.

2. “Tiny Pretty Things,” Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra

Tiny Pretty Things

Tiny Pretty Things, described as Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars, takes you into the cut-throat world of ballet. It follows three girls: a Black girl named Gigi White, a White girl named Bette and a half- Korean girl named June. Gigi just moved to town from California, has a heart condition that makes dancing life-threatening, and is having a hard time dealing with some of the shadiness from the other girls. Bette has been at the American Ballet Conservatory the longest of the three and she is a conniving narcissist who wants to get out of her sister’s shadow. June has also been at the conservatory for an extended length of time but feels like she’s always getting overlooked and must improve before her mom puts and end to her dream.

Buy here.

3. “Everything, Everything,” Nicola Yoon

Everything, Everything

Maddy Whittier was diagnosed with severe combined immune deficiency at birth, which means that she can’t leave her house without getting really sick. Despite being confined to her home for 17 years, Maddy has made the best of her situation by reading and spending time with her mom and nurse, Carla. That changes when a cute boy named Olly (Nick Robinson) moves in next door and awakens feelings in Maddy that she’s never experienced. Everything, Everything chronicles their blossoming romance and the unique challenges that come along with Maddy’s disease, before a major twist at the end that will leave your jaw on the floor. Everything, Everything is being made into a major motion film that will star Amandla Stenberg and Nick Robinson.

Buy here.

4. “Poison’s Kiss,” Breeana Shields

Poison's Kiss

Marinda is a visha kanya, or “poison maiden,”meaning a young girl (in Indian folklore) whose blood and saliva are poisonous. Marinda has killed dozens of boys with just a simple kiss on the lips. Why? She receives orders from the Raja and believes that she’s doing good until she receives an order to kill a boy she knows, Deven. Nothing that Marinda knows about him says that he deserves to die, so the order has her questioning whom she is really serving. Once she start to pry, the life she knows slowly starts to unravel.

Buy here.

5. “The Kayla Chronicles,” Sherri Winston

The Kayla Chronicles

Kayla Dean is a self-proclaimed feminist and journalist who’s about to break the biggest story of her life. She believes that the Lady Lions dance team discriminates against girls with small breasts. With the encouragement of her friend, Rosalie, Kayla undergoes a makeover and decides to test her theory. She knows that she’s a great dancer, so if she doesn’t make the squad it’ll be because she’s not as well endowed as the other girls. She doesn’t get her story, though, because she blows everyone away with her audition and makes the team. Her views about feminism and womanhood are challenged when she realizes the girls on the squad aren’t who she expected them to be.

Buy here.

6. “This Side of Home,” Renee Watson

This Side of Home

Maya and Nikki, twins living in Portland, are on the same page about pretty much everything. They have the same goals; share the same friends; and even like the same types of boys. After graduation; they plan to attend the same historically Black college together, too. When their neighborhood gets revamped with new coffee shops and fancy businesses, Maya is thrilled, while Nikki feels like she’s losing the essence of their home. For two girls who have always been in sync about everything, the gentrification of their hometown makes them face the fact that they might not always see eye to eye and will have to stand on their own.

Buy here.

7. “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,” Jenny Han

To All The Boys I've Loved Before

Lara Jean is a teen girl who has had her fair share of crushes—one of them being her sister’s ex-boyfriend! When she gets over these feelings, she writes each boy a letter that she never intends to send and stores them under her bed. One day, she realizes that someone has sent out the letters and her life gets super complicated when she has to confront each of her past loves.

Buy here.

8. “The Secret of a Heart Note,” Stacey Lee

The Secret of A Heart Note centers on 16-year old Mimosa. She is one of only two aromateurs left on the planet. As such, she spends her days her mixing the powerful elixirs that help other people fall in love. There is a catch, though. If she ever falls in love herself, she will lose her very special and unique gift. When she accidently gives an elixir to the wrong woman, she must enlist the help of the woman’s soccer star son. With his help, she will undo her mistake and learn that you can’t always control whom you fall for.

Buy here.

9. “The Education of Margot Sanchez,” Lilliam Rivera

Margot Sanchez attends a prestigious private school paid for by her father, who owns two grocery stores. She’s shallow, self-centered and downplays her culture in order to fit in with her rich peers. When she steals her dad’s credit card to buy fancier clothes, he forces her to work in one of his stores. Though she’s embarrassed at first, she learns more about being grateful for what she has, loving herself, her family and her culture.

Buy here.

10. “Lucy and Linh,” by Alice Pung

When Lucy wins a scholarship to a prestigious private school, she soon learns that it’s a whole new world than that she’s been used to. For starters, a powerful trio named “The Cabinet” sets their sights on her, but she realizes that the powerful clique isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. As she works to fit in and live up to impossible expectations, she confides in her friend Linh, someone she knew before, through a series of letters. That relationship also gets tested as they realize they might not have much in common anymore.

Buy here.

These are just a few of the great YA books out there that feature smart, funny, flawed women of color. They show that we don’t always have to be strong or someone else’s support system. We can be the lead, the funny one, the math wiz and even the ballerina. Though they might be a little harder to find, it’s definitely worth putting in the extra effort.