Jay Reguero is a Filipino-American teen who, like many American teenagers, plays a lot of video games in his spare time and doesn’t go out of his way to spend time with his family. Though Jay and his family have travelled home to the Philippines to visit family, they more often stay in touch via phone and letters. Jay tended to be closer to one cousin in particular over the years, though he has recently stopped even responding to Jun’s letters. He is thoroughly devastated, therefore, when he learns that Jun was killed — especially when his family tries to act like nothing really happened. He was allegedly killed because of his ties to the “war on drugs” back in the Philippines, and his death has brought shame to their family. From what Jay remembers of his cousin, though, that doesn’t make any sense. And when he starts to look into things, he finds a lot of stories about people who were killed with less-than-compelling evidence that they were actually involved in the drug scene.
Since President Duterte was elected based on his promises to reign in drugs and violence in the Philippines, though, he has literally encouraged extra-judicial killings as a means by which they might wipe out drug dealers and addicts alike. Many times, the victim’s family members are either too ashamed to speak out about the death of their loved ones, fear for what might happen to them if they speak out against this vigilante justice, or both. But Jay, fueled by both grief and guilt, simply needs to know the truth. Will traveling to the Philippines help Jay to uncover the real truth of what happened to Jun? How will he manage to look his extended family in the eye if and when he is visiting and they try to pretend nothing is wrong? And what will Jay even do with the information once he learns the “truth” behind his cousin’s death?
To be honest, I had only heard a very little bit about President Duterte and the controversy surrounding his presidency before I read this story. Hopefully Jun’s story, though he is a fictional character, will help to raise awareness of what is happening in the Philippines. And, if nothing else, this book is a much-needed reminder that it is dangerous to allow hatred and fear to guide government policies and/or bring about the rise of dictators.
Whoa! It’s a really good thing this book didn’t come out *before* my husband got suddenly interested in hiking a few years ago. Between my anxiety creating its own “worst case scenarios” and the crazy situations in this book, I may not have been able to handle him heading out into the wilderness! So, what is so crazy about this story?!? Well, let’s start off with the fact that a PE teacher is taking an entire class of high school seniors, many of whom have no hiking/camping experience, out into the Canadian wilderness for an overnight hike. Though I am sure there are probably teachers and students who have had such experiences, thinking about that kind of a scenario just makes me nervous to begin with. Of course, two of the students end up separated from the rest of the group. And the weather suddenly turns, bringing both rain and snow. Without proper gear and with hardly any food between the two of them, they need to manage long enough to be found or to get themselves back to town. Gah!!!!!!!
There were a few things that I really loved about this story, despite all the anxiety it caused me. 😉 First was the story of the friendship between the two main characters, Ash and Vale. Although they had been best friends as kids, the two had drifted apart. And, even worse, Ash didn’t stick up for Vale when she became a bit of a social outcast and was being bullied; he felt bad but didn’t want to make himself a target. There’s nothing quite like an emergency, nevertheless, to bring people together. Second is that this story was a little crash course, in and of itself, into wilderness survival. Since Vale had experience in the outdoors and Ash was a complete beginner, she taught him (and readers) a bunch of survival tactics and hacks. The third thing I particularly loved was the fact that Vale was open with Ash about her identification as ace/aro (asexual and aromantic) and explained what that meant (feeling neither sexual or romantic attraction towards anyone, regardless of their gender). Although this book was published right before #PrideMonth, I am not sure whether it was intention or kismet. Either way, I hope readers will take away both wilderness survival hacks and a little understanding of and empathy for the ace/aro contingent of the GLBTQ+ community.
Are you someone who watched Maleficent or Wicked and felt like you’d been lied to your whole life? After I so enjoyed reading the back-stories in Marissa Meyer’s Fairest (an origin story for the evil Queen Levana from The Lunar Chronicles) and Heartless (an origin story for the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland), I started to hope for origin stories of some more “wicked” characters. I think that showing readers how even well-known characters can be misunderstood will help them to consider the hardships and circumstances that have shaped some of the “bad” people they know in real life. By even the middle of this story, I felt like I got where the ugly stepsisters were coming from and how their actions, though not excusable, could be understandable. If you’re up for a feminist continuation/retelling of Cinderella that will challenge your pre-conceived notions, this book will not disappoint.
Kira’s earliest memories are of living alone in the woods. Young, scared, hungry, and alone… It took a long time for her to adjust to living around other people again. Fortunately, Kira was taken in and adopted by a very patient and understanding woman named Cady Bennett. In fact, Cady was the one to find Kira, along with one of her search-and-rescue dogs. Many years later, though, Kira still has days where she would rather sleep outside and avoid any unnecessary contact with people.
Now, along with Cady’s son, Jude, and their neighbor, a girl named Free, Kira is learning search-and-rescue protocol and helping to train a dog of her own. The problem is, though, that her first real-life test is causing some unexpected difficulties. Though she desperately wants (needs?) to help find the missing girl, spending time in the woods seems to be triggering some repressed memories and raising lots of questions about not only her past but that of her family.
I hadn’t before heard of The Ascendance Trilogy, but I stumbled upon it doing an advanced search for YA audiobooks that were “available now” on OverDrive. (Man, I love that search feature!) As it turns out, I so enjoyed this book — and had so much yard work to do in recent days — that I managed to listen to the *entire trilogy* in under two weeks! When an audiobook is filled with so much action and adventure, after all, it can be hard to shut off the story and return to real life. 😉
One of my favorite things about this series was that there were just so many mysteries to unravel. There were layers upon layers of secrets and lies. Just when I thought I finally had things figured out, there would be another twist and yet another secret revealed. Looking back through what had happened, these secrets always made sense… but they were just so darn well hidden that it sometimes floored me to think the author got me YET AGAIN! Aside from the action and mystery, I was also a big fan of Nielsen’s character development. Even the secondary characters were so well developed that it felt almost as if they were new friends with whom I was becoming acquainted. And whether it was a friendship, a romance, or a rivalry that was forming, the interactions between characters were very compelling. Even better? These tales of knights, kings, warring kingdoms, conspiracies, and deceit are perfectly suited for advanced middle grade and young YA readers.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am *dying* over here as I wait for the 3rd season of Stranger Things. So, when I saw a blurb that said this book was likely to become a “new obsession” for fans of The Raven Boys and Stranger Things… You better believe I immediately requested a review copy from NetGalley! (I’m so grateful I was approved!)
Having to move near the end of high school has got to be tough in and of itself. Violet had it even worse, though, because her dad was dead, her sister had just died, and her mom kept her from the extended family on her father’s side. The only family Violet had left were her mother and her aunt — who was struggling with mental illness and now required her sister’s care.
Almost immediately upon entering Four Paths, Violet realized something was not quite right. As it turns out, she was a member of one of the four “founding families” who had joined forces and used their special powers to trap an evil beast in an alternate dimension called the Gray. Violet’s ignorance caused her to release the monster from the Gray and set off a terrible chain of events.
I really liked how Herman used Violet’s coming of age story to explore the themes of friendship, family, and loyalty. And I especially loved how the Gray did, in fact, resonate with me as much as the Upside Down.