Jazz Jennings has been in the public spotlight since she was interviewed by Barbara Walters — when she was only 6 years old. At the time, her parents had asked that their real name not be used so that they could better protect their daughter from people who would be upset by the interview. Why? Because Jazz was transgender. Though she was born with the anatomy of a boy, Jazz always knew she was *really* a girl. When she was 5 years old, her parents helped her to transition to life as a girl. And a year later, the famous interview with Barbara Walters took place. In the 11 years since that interview, Jazz has continued her brave work as an activist for the LGBTQ community by accepting high-profile interviews and speaking engagements, maintaining a social media presence, and writing memoirs to help transgender youth feel less alone while educating people who don’t truly understand the struggles of transgender youth.
I thought this would be a particularly relevant book to review during #BannedBooksWeek because her children’s picture book, I Am Jazz, is listed as the 10th most challenged book of 2017. I listened to the audiobook, which was narrated by Jazz herself, and I really enjoyed hearing Jazz tell her own story. She spoke with such courage and fortitude about her battles with bullying and depression. Though the picture book goes into much less detail than this YA memoir, many people are uncomfortable discussing gender identity with children. Hopefully, the tenacity and bravery of transgender people like Jazz Jennings will help to open the dialogue necessary to create better understanding so that transgender youth will no longer feel so much sadness and confusion as they evaluate how they want to express their gender identity.
Esta is a talented thief and a powerful Mageus who, though she can travel through time, is stuck in New York City. Why? Because the Order, a group that despises Mageus, has manipulated magic to created something called the Brink. Any Mageus who end up inside the Brink become stuck inside because crossing the Brink essentially drains their powers and kills them. And because of this Brink, magic is dwindling and dying out. But Esta is working on a way to take down the Brink. All she needs to do is travel back in time to steal a particular magical book. The problem, of course, is that she needs to get that book from 1902, when not only the Order but also powerful gangs and corrupt politicians hold quite a bit of power over the Mageus in New York City. This book felt almost as if it were the marriage of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them and Gangs of New York… Fantastic fun! (I can’t wait until the second book in the series, The Devil’s Thief, is released in October.)
Grace was an only child who had been adopted at birth. Her parents were open about the fact that she was adopted, but that didn’t mean they told her everything. Like, for instance, the fact that she had two biological siblings. So, what was it that drove them to make such a stunning revelation? Well… It was the fact that Grace got pregnant and put her own baby up for adoption. Although she knew she had chosen a very capable and loving couple to adopt her baby, she was still completely heartbroken to see that piece of herself taken away. So heartbroken, in fact, that it made Grace start to question the conditions under which her own mother had given her up for adoption and whether her biological mother would be interested in meeting up with her. Though Grace’s parents didn’t have any way to get in touch with her biological mother, they were able to tell her that she had an older brother, Joaquin, and a younger sister, Maya, who were located relatively close by!
I loved how Benway was able to create such unique voices for each of the three siblings so that their alternating narratives didn’t get too confusing or too redundant. I also appreciated how she was able to present such a depth and breadth of experiences for these teens, who had been adopted or spent a long time in the foster care system, without making it sound like she was merely ticking off items on a list. The problems that faced each of the siblings, both personal and interpersonal, were both realistic and varied. I think what I liked the most about this story was the fact that there was just so much *stuff* for readers to grab onto. It is so important for YA books to present a variety of characters and situations so that readers can both relate and learn to empathize with situations they have never faced. I am not the least bit surprised that this book won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.
I recently went through the list of the YALSA 2018 Teens’ Top 10 nominees and made a plan to read all of the books I hadn’t yet read. There are 25 books on the list and I had only read 7 of them. Gah! While I recognize that I may not get it done before they announce the winners, what with all the other books I keep on adding to my TBR list, I figured I had to at least try! I had just finished my audiobook and this one was readily available to me, so I went for it. I didn’t even read any of the summaries before getting started with requesting books and audiobooks. I decided I would read them “blind” because they are included on the list of nominees and that is all I need to know to trust that I will enjoy them. My verdict so far?!? Wow! At a time when real world racial tensions are high and the “religious right” are working to pass laws that justify and allow for bigotry in the US, this book sometimes felt a bit too real and less like an escape.
In Erthia, there are many different races — Elves, Fae, Gardnerians, Icarals, Kelts, Lupines, Selkies, Urisks, Vu Trin, etc. — and they have all been raised with certain beliefs and prejudices about each other. Elloren Gardner is the granddaughter of the famed Gardnerian Black Witch, though she has been raised in seclusion and without any magical training. Why bother when she has no magical abilities of her own, right? When her uncle allows her to attend the illustrious Verpax University to persue her life-long dream of becoming an apothecary, he asks that she focus on her studies and promise him NOT to be wandfasted (think arranged marriage) until after she has completed her studies. Unfortunately, though, Elloren’s Aunt Vyvian would like nothing more than to wandfast her to a powerful Gardnerian in order to compensate for the girl’s lack of magic and to protect their family’s socio-political standing.
I appreciated the fact that Forest so thoughtfully explored stereotypes and prejudices. Though it was tough in the beginning of the story to see how accepting Elloren was of the racist ideals and stereotypes with which she had been raised, I think it was very necessary to set the stage for her awakening. From xenophobia and racism to misogyny and homophobia, this story line pushed Elloren/readers to challenge her/their pre-conceived notions and to see how people in power often try to skew people’s perceptions to suit an agenda. One of my favorite quotes was from Professor Kristian, when he was talking to Elloren about how history books written by different groups of people had very conflicting depictions of what actually happened:
Real education doesn’t make your life easy. It complicates things and makes everything messy and disturbing. But the alternative, Elloren Gardner, is to live your life based on injustice and lies.
Emilia had a particularly tough childhood… After surviving a horrific attack behind her elementary school, she was so traumatized that she actually stopped speaking for some time. In the aftermath of the attack, her father also left because he couldn’t deal. Now that she is in high school, she is frustrated that she still can’t quite get past the attack. She sometimes finds herself mentally trapped in the time of the attack and reliving it. Winters are especially bad, since that was when the attack took place. And attempts to be intimate with her boyfriend seem to be particularly triggering. To make matters worse, she just found out that the person who attacked her was *not* actually the person she identified and who went to jail. With the knowledge that she sent an innocent person to jail and that she will likely see him around town once he is released, Emilia isn’t sure how she will make it through this winter.
Though this story doesn’t deal with straight-up amnesia, fans of With Malice will likely enjoy the way this story also unfolds bit by bit to reveal how everything happened. If you’re looking for a book that will keep you guessing, and on the edge of your seat, you should definitely add this to your summer reading pile.