YA Book Comparisons by Authors Of Color and Unfair Critiques of BIPOC Work {Book Blog Discussion Revisited}

As it often happens in the book community, discussions are often recycled, repeated, in an almost yearly cycle. However, one cannot ignore the nuance and expansion that each of these discussions brings (no matter how monotonous), which sheds a new light on a different angle of which to view it. Today I’m revisiting an article I wrote originally in October of 2019 to explore the idea of comparative titles or reader comparisons in general, and how they impact the ratings/perception of YA Fantasy novels, particularly by authors of color.

Due to specific expectations or perhaps the overworked concept of “comp titles,” the main point of my 2019 article was to showcase how these books, almost always by authors of color are harshly critiqued or left with unfair ratings due to surface level comparisons. So why am I revisiting this discussion again? Well news broke on November 4 that Hafsah Faizal’s upcoming 2022 novel (which sounds phenomenal btw) titled “A Tempest Of Tea” would be a new fantasy duology featuring a “gang of outcasts and a deadly heist.”

According to Faizal via Twitter, in the span of less than 24 hours, 19 to be exact, her unpublished book with only an announcement already started getting compared to no surprise… Six Of Crows.

Many in the book community, rightfully so, have taken to Twitter speaking out against this unfair critique. As mentioned in my 2019 discussion, surface-level comparisons such as these often undermine the lengthy discussions and research authors of color input to delve into topics such as colonialism, slavery, race, and much more unlike the white authors to which their novels get compared to. Especially when authors of color are crafting works based on their own distinct experiences or culture.

It’s truly disheartening to see because it instills this idea *specifically* among the book community (or industry) whether it’s readers, publishers, etc. that authors of color or BIPOC folks, can’t have their novels stand on their own. In my previous piece I examined this through The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi and Nocturna by Maya Motayne (which are both excellent YA Fantasy titles).

*Note: I’m not here to completely disregard comp titles or anything, because without a doubt they can invaluable tool to increase awareness, draw in similar readers, or help titles during different stages of the publishing process. For information on the usefulness of this method, I recommend reading “Comp Titles: An Elevator Pitch For Your Book” from the Penguin Random House blog ‘News For Authors’.

As mentioned numerous times by authors, readers, and so on, SOC did not invent heists nor will it ever be the only novel that does so. (Especially since Ally Carter’s Heist Society came out in 2010 and is often forgotten). Maybe I’ll delve into this in another discussion, but I feel this largely has to do with the rise in online book community spaces just as SOC was released and hyped up which then in turn, led to this book being pushed and later cemented among that wave of readers, reviewers, etc. finding their online space.

Now back to my main point, in the end us as readers need to be more cognizant that as publishing continues to become more inclusive and diverse, we need to understand that many communities of color have not had their chances at telling the stories we’ve encountered hundreds of times. While of course not every book is for everyone (which is absolutely valid), I think if anything, this is a great opportunity for readers to see how authors use their unique and distinct backgrounds to explore tropes/storytelling from their particular lens.

In an article from Bustle on November 24, celebrating Sabaa Tahir’s finale to the ‘An Ember In The Ashes’ quartet, Tahir mentioned how there is still much work to be done in “[diversifying] YA publishing,” additionally she stated:

Over and over, authors from marginalized groups are told, ‘We already have a book like this,’ or ‘We already have an author like you.’ But books by marginalized authors shouldn’t be a quota you fill…”How many vampire books written by white authors? Dozens. I’ve nothing against that, but authors from marginalized groups deserve the same respect. Just because authors have similar experiences or ethnic backgrounds doesn’t mean their stories will be identical. We contain multitudes and our work is meaningful and distinctive.

Sabaa Tahir via ‘The An Ember In The Ashes Series Might Be Over, But Sabaa Tahir Is Just Getting Started’ from Bustle

Where traditionally, marginalized and BIPOC writers have been on the outskirts, we should not overlook the strides made when a new author of color publishes, because each one is an accomplishment, inspiration, and hope for a future beaming with new writers waiting to tell their own stories too.

I will yet again, leave on this quote from Leigh Bardugo herself in a 2016 article from Bustle, where she states, “The truth is, I get a lot of praise for diversity, but there are far more diverse fantasy worlds out there.”

Any additional thoughts you’d like to add to this discussion? or Any related topics your interested in sharing? 📚✨

Additional articles from fellow book bloggers that also discuss this topic:

1.Michelle from MagicalReads7 post The Gilded Wolves Vs. Six Of Crows

2. CW from The Quiet Pond posting about Book Recommendations: Diverse Heist Stories (That aren’t SOC)

Mija Podcast Review {Literary Listens}

Mija PodcastMija Podcast created by Lory Martinez

Release Date: September 25, 2019

Episodes: 14 (Across 2 Seasons)

Summary: Hosted by a narrator known only as Mija (daughter in Spanish), each episode tells the story of how members of her family experience immigration.

My Thoughts: Mija is a phenomenal podcast everyone should listen to! With each episode, our charming narrator delves into her family’s history, Colombian heritage, and what it means to a Latina living in New York City. Martinez layers such deep character profiles across the series, weaving together a heartfelt tale of family, growing up, and the meaning of home!

Where audio drama fiction is filled with an abundance of sci-fi and fantasy tales, its nice to see podcasts like Mija that delve into modern-day contemporary to deliver a story so heartfelt and authentic, it reminds me why podcasting is one of the best spaces for fictional storytelling right now!

Throughout each episode of the Mija Podcast, our narrator (Mija) chronicles her family history from parents to cousins, even brother and grandparents! In doing so, she delves into her Colombian roots and heritage, while also exploring what it means to be a Latina (Colombian-American) in New York City.

The writing is charming, moving, and delivers personal, complex character profiles in under 10 minutes. From the very first episode I fell in love with this podcast because as someone with Latin-American roots, there’s such deeply interwoven messages about family, that really is are at the heart of Latinx culture. One of the most distinct messages that really builds over the course of this first season is that family really is connected, regardless of distance.

While each of the 8 episodes does chronicle a different family member, you begin to see how they overlap as you delve deeper into Mija’s Colombian roots, especially as we travel with Mija across different timelines.

Sound design is fantastic, not only when it comes to the exceptional soundtrack and sfx, but also Mija’s narration in general, as it explores Latinx-American culture, touches on Colombian history, immigration, and spotlighting Colombian representation. Also its no surprise that Spanish is organically woven into the narrative, but just having it spoken aloud in a fictional (but very real) story was just beautiful to hear.

Told through a first and 3rd-person perspective, the storytelling really is beautifully written and so heartfelt. You can’t help but feel such JOY when listening to Mija as it puts the focus on family not only its history, but legacy and the important values that family passes down.

In fiction, I personally feel like there is still such a long way to go in terms of Latinx rep., but podcasts such as Mija remind me that is happening little by little. Stories of hope, joy, family, are important to hear from all cultures and Martinez has really made that a hallmark of this series.

From the values, stories about traveling to visit relatives, how each family member is connected to Mija, etc. these are all pieces of much larger story that I really felt connected with and hopefully you will to.

I won’t delve into too many plot-specifics because this really is a story you need to experience for yourself! You won’t be disappointed.

While my family isn’t Colombian, hearing Mija’s stories in a way felt like hearing my family’s stories too.

Also what makes the Mija Podcast such an accessible one is that it’s available in French, English, and Spanish. Even more wonderful is that Season 2, focuses on a Chinese family who now lives in Paris!

Podcasts such as Mija are absolute gems in audio drama fiction that deliver stories you really can’t get anywhere else. Please listen to this fantastic podcast, I got through the entirety of Season 1 in 1 sitting and can’t recommend it enough, add this one to your list!

Mija Podcast is a heartfelt tale about family and home! The writing is poetic, charming, and explores deeply complex themes! With each episode, Mija delves into the life of a different family member and tells their story. Martinez has crafted a truly unforgettable podcast you don’t want to miss!

YA Book Comparisons + Discussing #OwnVoices & Diverse Books {Book Blog Discussion}

There’s many wonderful bloggers and other bookish people on twitter who have elaborated on the  discussion in regards to books by #OwnVoices or marginalized authors, being unfairly critiqued or compared to more popular authors (often white) in the same category. But, I’d like to get into more specifics and just expand on this discussion, because its a topic that really needs to be talked about.

I wasn’t sure when I was going to post this, but the discussion between SOC/TGW came up again on book twiter and I felt it was time I presented my thoughts.

Today’s post is something that’s been on my mind for a while, but in all honesty― it’s always been hard for me to put into words exactly what I want to say.. Sorry if this post seems to be a bit all over the place, but know there are many different layers to this discussion and I may not be able to get to all of them (perhaps for another blog post).

Again, I’m just one blogger, but I hope my discussion today can offer further explanation into this topic.

I’ve gotten my thoughts on this a lot less jumbled in my mind and it’s something that I’ve not only witnessed and dug up more knowledge on myself, but as an aspiring YA writer of color, it’s something that needs to be discussed! And this topic is:

Book comparisons in YA for authors of color vs. white authors (when looking at The Gilded Wolves and Nocturna)

Even when it comes to the disparity in ratings (and general perception) when books by authors of color are so quickly compared to non-marginalized (often white + more popular) authored novels, it is startling and often disheartening to see.

I find there’s so many reasons why this needs to be examined more closely and it needs to be talked about:

Firstly, it establishes this idea that authors (especially non-white/#OwnVoices) can’t write tropes that literally have existed since the beginning of time for their own stories because Popular Author A over here already had a bestselling and well-loved book, with that 1 element that came out 5 years ago?

Think this isn’t true? Look at the disparity of these ratings & top-rated reviews (as of late October 2019) for Roshani Chokshi’s The Gilded Wolves and Leigh Bardugo’s Six Of Crows:

Gilded Wolves: 9,028 Ratings & 3.70 star average (when I originally drafted this back in June) which is now: 

11, 336 Ratings & 3.67 star average

Six Of Crows: 4.46 star average (over 4 years at 219,107 Ratings)

In my personal opinion, I was sure that the advertising of The Gilded Wolves well before it was officially out on shelves, wasn’t going to click with certain fans of SOC who would interpret specific elements of the story to be similar. Which in turn, would greatly influence the books perception upon/after release in terms of ratings, etc.

So, in turn due to perhaps how it was marketed, among other factors, The Gilded Wolves seemed to leave a somewhat “negative” impression on certain readers who had specific expectations. Due to similarly found story elements, that could be misinterpreted as being exactly like Six Of Crows.

Comparisons were easily made between these two YA Fantasy titles (mainly because it has a found-family crew with comparable characters to SOC and is a heist? Because heists didn’t exist before 2015 apparently?) *But in reality, let me just preface by saying TGW has MULTIPLE heists compared to Six Of Crows, which from I remember only has 1?

There are so many stories out there that have heists and yes, are in fantasy/sci-fi settings (have crews, etc.), but I’ve typically seen unfair critiques between these two books.

The top low-rated review of The Gilded Wolves on Goodreads comparing it to SOC states that Six Of Crows enjoyment factor is “leagues ahead of this book…,” but a general comparison that I’ve seen is that the crew of The Gilded Wolves are exactly like the Dregs from Six Of Crows.

Look, I don’t have a problem with how people rate their books, I know that not every book is for everyone. We all have different opinions and that’s what makes reading so great!

However, it’s really telling when you begin to see similar complaints for a non-white authored book because it’s seen/read as a “copy,” “ripoff,” or “plagiarized” version of this white-authored book ―which often times came out years before the book by the non-white author.

The fact is that #OwnVoices (and especially authors of color) are getting a bigger chance now to write/tell the stories that they needed or would have wanted growing up! This is especially important for the teen audience of YA today, to see themselves represented in these worlds–because we live in a big and diverse one!

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

To provide further evidence against those who say The Gilded Wolves is just a copy of SOC, here’s some quotes, taking place in a single scene that I’ll analyze in regards to colorism, nuanced discussion of culture, and colonization from The Gilded Wolves:

Enrique is gearing up to talk to Marcelo, a member of the Ilustrados, an organization of European-educated Filipinos who dream to reform their Spanish-controlled country. In this scene, Marcelo is discussing an upcoming meeting with the queen of Spain.

“Oh!” said Enrique. “I-I could help?”

Marcelo smiled. “Ah, but of course! Enrique Mercado-Lopez: journalist, historian, and debonaire spy…Of course it must be easy to spy when you hardly look like one of us…” (Ch. 6)

In Six Of Crows, we know Inej’s story and her hardships (I’m not dismissing that), however when it comes to discussion of culture and race, predominately in regards to Inej’s Suli culture, it’s explored or stated in lines quite briefly. Additionally, more of what we know about her culture is interpreted by flashbacks of her past and not necessarily layered world-building that delves into further exploration in the present.

In one single scene of The Gilded Wolves, we are delving into the topic of colonization, its after-effects alongside the discussion of coming from two different cultures, while not feeling accepted or understood in either– to quote Tor’s review:

“That sense of living a half life trapped between two unyielding worlds permeates the novel. All of the characters deal with a life spent constantly crossing through the liminal space between two opposing cultures…”

Another point I’d like to add is that those who’ve unfairly compared TGW to SOC, hardly even mention the #OwnVoices rep. & representation in general that Chokshi weaves throughout her novel: Zofia is Jewish, Polish and on the autism spectrum, Laila who is Indian, Enrique who’s Spanish-Filipino & Bi, Hypnos who is dark-skinned + Queer, & Séverin who is 1/2 French & North African.

Regardless of how I personally feel about the comparison people make between Six Of Crows and The Gilded Wolves, allow me to conclude this section with a wonderful quote from Bardugo via Bustle from September 2016 when discussing fantasy and diversity:

“…The truth is, I get a lot of praise for diversity, but there are far more diverse worlds out there…”

Another comparison that really fueled this discussion as well, was seeing deeper claims of similarity between Maya Motayne’s YA Fantasy debut Nocturna (2019) and ADSOM (or Darker Shades Of Magic Series; 2015).

Nocturna by Maya Motayne

To start, these books aren’t even in the same age-range! Look, I’ve read ADSOM too, but Schwab has made it very clear time and time again, that its an ADULT series, (aka not YA). 

To break it down, Nocturna is set in a Dominican-inspired fantasy world where magic is inspired by the Spanish language, and follows a prince & thief duo who have to find a way to take down a dark magic they’ve accidentally unleashed!

A Goodreads review mentioned that “unabashedly good reviews” of Nocturna must have come from those who either “have never read V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic Trilogy, or who do not care when a book’s entire plot is lifted from another source…”

The comparisons are as follows:

Readers claim Nocturna is a blatant rip-off of the ADSOM series because of a girl/guy duo, the female is a thief (morally-grey female heroine), and there’s a dark magic entity…okay and? Have you never played a Fantasy/Sci-Fi RPG?? Those elements are nothing new…

To see such comparisons right off the bat based on elements and tropes which are by far more popular in other mediums/storytelling spaces, is just disheartening!

What comparisons like this unearth (especially if they are *unfairly comparing #OwnVoices/POC-authored books) is that to certain readers, these stories aren’t allowed to have or use tropes, storytelling devices, character archetypes, etc. that have been around for much longer than we have. Which is incredibly unfair because, that’s how stories work! Artists, writers, storytellers, find that spark of inspiration and that’s how storytelling continues to grow and evolve.

In regards to Nocturna I’ll present a scene in which Prince Alfie has conjured a spell to let a mural of Castallan’s past come to life as it relays the history of the country and how there came “rebellion” and how the “enslaved [broke] free of their shackles…” (Nocturna, 9):

“At his command, the mural moved with life…The mural slowly darkened as Englassen conquerors appeared on the shores. They chained his people…people’s magic was drained from them and transferred to their Englassen masters…The Englassen regime destroyed all the tomes of their language, forcing them to forget the tongue that connected them to their heritage…” (8-9, Nocturna).

“Then came the rebellion, with the enslaved breaking free of their shackles and rising against the conquerors and rediscovering their language…” (9, Nocturna)

These claims don’t even take into account the way Motayne discusses this topic and adds layers and depth to the magic system considering its heavily inspired by the Spanish language, and how it operates differently with each person (among other philosophical/literal ideas that there must be a balance to the magic itself). Also, just the fact that this is an #OwnVoices Latinx YA Fantasy (what an inspiration for aspiring Latina fantasy authors like myself) !!

Also Motayne stated in an interview through B&N Teen Blog that “if you can only take one thing [from my story], I hope it’s this: culture is magic. Your culture is magic. Never give it up, never surrender it. Because when you do, you surrender yourself along with it, and who you are is worth fighting for…”

“…I chose to stop uprooting myself from my heritage and to instead firmly plant myself in it…”

“I put pen to paper and wrote the adventure of a prince, a thief, and the LatinX kingdom that they lived in. A kingdom where your connection to your heritage and the language of your ancestry is your magic…”

Nearly 100% of the time, you’ll never see white-authored books go into lengthy discussions of race, slavery, colonialism, as much as non-white (often female) YA Fantasy authors. I recommend checking out Michelle from Magical Reads blog post where she discusses this exactly, when comparisons are made about The Gilded Wolves and Six Of Crows!

There’s a couple quotes from that post that always resonate with me. First, its that if these popular books are the “mold for YA fantasy”, whose to say these new books from authors of color (with completely different concepts & inspirations) can’t “break the mold…”?

For a diverse, brilliant and expansive community of readers such as that of YA, I do hope there continues to be more nuanced discussion of these very real and important topics authors of color explore and emphasize in their novels. Because in the end, no matter how similar stories may seem, the fantastic authors writing Young Adult are crafting from their own unique, distinct experiences and inspirations.

At the end of the day, I don’t want to blame anyone for how they rate their books, that’s not the point of this discussion. I’m hoping, it allows you to think a little more critically about how quickly book comparisons are made for YA (predominantly YA Fantasy) and why it does a disservice to the authors (especially those of color) who take time incorporating topics such as colonialism, slavery, race, and so much more into their stories/fantasy settings and presenting traditionally marginalized characters at the center of them. We live in a diverse world and we should not overlook the #OwnVoices/Marginalized authors representing that!

As I stated above, this discussion is one I’ve been thinking about for a while, but I hope that with my post here today it offers a bit more clarity on why (negative) comparisons like this can do more harm than good.

Any additional thoughts you’d like to share on this discussion or on the opinions I’ve shared? ✨📚

*Corrections/additions:

1. Gilded Wolves is Historical Fantasy (set in 1889 Paris), while SOC is a spin-off of the original Grisha Trilogy still set in the Grishaverse (Oct. 25, 2019)

2. “Marketing” is mentioned in this post, but upon reflection and further research I meant to say “buzz” (generated by early reviews) (Oct. 25, 2019)

3. Since writing this post, I wrote another Article revisiting this topic in early December (Dec. 2020)

Flyest Fables Podcast Review {Literary Listens}

flyest fables podcastFlyest Fables created by Morgan Givens

Release Date: October 1, 2018

Episodes: 8

Running Time: Episodes range from 15 to 26 minutes

Summary: Flyest Fables brings you anthology style and critically acclaimed hopepunk fables for the 21st century. Created by Morgan Givens.

My Thoughts: Flyest Fables is an anthology audio drama podcast! There’s a magical book and an even more magic tale inside, just waiting to be read! Merging contemporary with fantasy, this is an inspiring podcast that showcases brilliant storytelling!

As my audio drama podcast lists grows as high as my TBR, I’ve made it a goal for 2019 to get back into listening to podcasts and review them more!

My first podcast of 2019 is a 2018 debut titled, Flyest Fables!

Created by Morgan Givens, this anthology-style audio drama is a podcast that focuses on black and brown protagonists who encounter a magical book with their name mysteriously engraved on the cover and get immersed in a fable that’s more than it seems upon first glance!

Episode 1, “Like Little Mice Mocking His Humiliation,” follows 6th-grader Antoine leaving class before the final bell! He’s trying to outrun bullies who’ve bothered him since kindergarten and luckily finds a fence near the school with a hole he hadn’t noticed before.

From there he passes through to escapes the bullies, but as he continues walking he soon finds a bench and a book with his name on it!

Filled with blank pages, it isn’t until he finds his moment of peace when he starts singing that the book quickly fill with words!

Not just any words, but a story of a far away land and a princess on a quest!

He looks at the book one more time and gets lost in the story of the Princess Keisha from the Kingdom of Orleans.

It turns out she’s been on a quest and to return home with a flower that would heal her mother, the Queen.

But as she trudges through the desert, she’s unsure if she’ll make it back in time because the journey itself was filled with lots of misfortune. As weeks pass though, she thinks back to the quartermaster and her mother’s words that stay with her as she finds her kingdom slowly getting closer and closer!

“I am not behind you, why do spend so much time there?…Or [is it that you] spend so much time looking at the past?…”

“It would be so easy to turn around…but I will not…”

As the story starts getting good, Antoine’s phone starts ringing from his mother to pick him up and realizes he’d been transported into that story for hours! As he tries to explain to her what happened, he keeps the book by his side waiting to return to that magical tale!

The writing was incredibly atmospheric! Through the 3rd person narrative, there is such depth to the unique world of this podcast and especially the main characters Antoine and Princess Keisha, but also the Kingdom Of Orleans.

Givens brilliantly juxtaposes his main protagonist with that of the fictional character to offer them and the listener with inspiring messages of hope and courage!

Antoine is a boy who’s running away from his bullies, but he gets introduced to a brave heroine who is facing her obstacles and not giving up!

Though I’ve only listened to this first episode, I can’t wait to hear more!

The voice acting was great! I haven’t looked too much into it, but I think creator Morgan Givens does all the voices and all the characters are given so much depth where I feel I know a good amount about them from just a few lines!

The atmosphere of Flyest Fables itself also delivers a feeling of optimism and hope which I love! The inspiring tales and the main characters who come to life are also sure to inspire listeners!

This young adult anthology above all showcases and spotlights positivity through its storytelling and I love that!

Speaking of storytelling, that is definitely another fantastic element to this audio drama! Even when faced with challenges, its the power of tales that remind our protagonist of his courage!

I haven’t taken a look at the other episodes yet, but I see the overarching theme of protagonists finding this magical book and with that, the stories remind them of the magic they have within themselves to channel their own strengths & bravery!

Flyest Fables is a brilliant podcast that spotlights the power and importance of storytelling! The fantastic and atmospheric writing deliver not only a unique world, but great protagonists who offer inspiring messages of courage and bravery! If your looking for a wholly unique tale that weaves contemporary with fantasy brimming with hope, I highly recommend this podcast!

Flyest Fables introduces fictional heroes while also reminding the listener of their inner hero! ✨🎙

Darius The Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram ARC Review

Darius The Great Is Not Okay by Adib KhorramDarius The Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Publisher: Dial Books (PenguinTeen)

Release Date: August 28, 2018

Pages: 320

Summary: Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s about to take his first-ever trip to Iran, and it’s pretty overwhelming–especially when he’s also dealing with clinical depression, a disapproving dad, and a chronically anemic social life. In Iran, he gets to know his ailing but still formidable grandfather, his loving grandmother, and the rest of his mom’s family for the first time. And he meets Sohrab, the boy next door who changes everything.

Sohrab makes sure people speak English so Darius can understand what’s going on. He gets Darius an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes him feel like a True Persian for the first time. And he understand that sometimes, best friends don’t have to talk. Darius has never had a true friend before, but now he’s spending his days with Sohrab playing soccer, eating rosewater ice cream, and sitting together for hours in their special place, a rooftop overlooking the Yazdi skyline.

Sohrab calls him Darioush–the original Persian version of his name–and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab. When it’s time to go home to America, he’ll have to find a way to be Darioush on his own.

*Received ARC through Bookish First*

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Darius The Great Is Not Okay is a deeply moving and character-driven YA Contemporary! Darius finds himself unsure of where he fits in, but a family trip to Iran allows him to connect more to his heritage, family, and make a new friend and allow him to figure out a space where he fits in! Khorram’s moving debut discusses family, friendship, mental health, & so much more!

You know when you read a book (especially YA Contemporary) and feel you can understand and sense the characters come to life  throughout the story? That was definitely what Darius The Great Is Not Okay was for me!

Darius Kellner hasn’t exactly found the perfect place to fit in at school or home. So when his parents announce he and his little sister Laleh will be visiting their mother’s parents in Iran during his spring break, he isn’t sure what to expect.

As it turns out they are visiting because Darius & Laleh’s grandfather is ill (he has a tumor), and with their mother not having visited in years, it becomes a rather sudden trip.

Having only seen his grandparents through video calls, Darius isn’t entirely sure he can fit in during his trip to Iran, even though he knows he’ll be surrounded by family.

As his parents and Laleh seem to be fitting in, Darius is trying his best to carve the space for himself.

Throughout his trip he not only connects with the family he’s never fully known, but learns more about his 1/2 Iranian heritage and even meets a local friend of the family, Sohrab.

While he struggles to find his place, Sohrab becomes Darius’s best friend and through their friendship, he begins to feel a sense of belonging (though it does take time).

There’s so much I can’t really put into words about this book! What resonated a lot with me the most, was the trip itself Darius & his family took to visit their other relatives.

Having been fortunate enough to visit the country where my parents grew up quite a few times, I really resonated with Khorram’s message about the importance of knowing your cultural heritage and overall how a trip like that just means so much.

Not only do I see beloved relatives I sadly don’t see too often, but it allows me to take a step back from the hectic day-to-day life back home and just explore, learn more about my cultural background each time I visit, & also relax + spend it with family.

Khorram’s debut focuses so much on the relationships we have with our friends, family, and how each dynamic can mean something different for a person. For example, Darius struggles so much with wanting to have support & in general, feel approved by his father.

Because of that, we see how the dynamic between Darius and his father is rather complicated (even when it comes to their Star Trek marathons) and how it has impacted Darius in many ways (from his confidence, to the love/acceptance he wants from his family).

Their dynamic alongside Darius & Sohrab’s is given so much page time and we see how these different relationships allow Darius to grow and question his place with his family, identity, etc. But also get a better understanding of who he is & wants to be.

Sohrab makes Darius feel more at home as they both understand that their friendship doesn’t always require talking. Sohrab asks Darius to join him in his games of soccer with other local teens, gifts him a soccer jersey, lets him borrow his cleats, and is just there to hang out with him. Though Darius is unsure of their friendship at first, I loved seeing how it allowed him to find a sense of belonging with Sohrab and open up in a different way.

I loved their friendship so much! There’s so much unsaid between them, but it is done in a way where Darius (as does the reader) knows that Sohrab really understands and accepts Darius for who he is, and respects how much Darius remains true to himself.

Because Darius works at a tea shop, Tea Haven, and mentions that tea is a big part of his Persian culture, I loved seeing how he used his knowledge + tea making skills, to connect with his grandmother & grandfather as the story progressed.

There’s also a discussion on mental health as we explore depression that both Darius and his father have. It was such an in-depth/explored element of the story and you see how depression has also impacted Darius and his view of the world.

The first person POV writing really allows us to understand Darius, his world, and the depth to him as a character! The themes, connections between family and friends, exploration of Iranian culture, all are explored in such a unique way by following Darius’s POV!

As for the inclusive representation, there is Iranian + Persian rep. seen through Darius’s family in Iran, his mother, and Javaneh Esfahani, a classmate that Darius sits with at lunch (Persian-American). There is also biracial representation (1/2 Persian & white) as seen with Darius & his sister Laleh. Though its not explicitly stated, we see there may be gay rep., as seen through Darius (alongside depression & fat rep). 

Another part of Darius The Great Is Not Okay that also resonated with me was the bond we see that has shifted between Darius’s mother & her father ( it reminded me so much of my grandfather). Darius’s Babou, has a tumor and because of that throughout the novel Darius sees how different he is (compared to the stories Darius has heard from his mother & the grandfather he’d spoken with through video chats).

Additionally, we have moments throughout where we see Darius’s grandfather’s illness impact his mother so incredibly much. I resonated with those moments a lot and my heart broke for Darius’s mother (knowing how close they were & seeing how his illness was changing him).

I did take off a star because at times within the dialogue (at least in the ARC) I found lines and pauses a bit overused (for ex. I did find Darius said “um” many times throughout the book. Even throughout the same page). Because of that, I found the repetitiveness of that word really took away from what it symbolized (in my opinion), because we are already aware that Darius has difficulty making his way into conversation or connecting with others in an unfamiliar social setting, etc.

So, the overuse of that word didn’t really make the writing flow as evenly as it could have.

Additionally, this isn’t really a bad thing, but because this novel is very character-driven, some elements of the plot and setting do feel a bit underdeveloped.

Overall though, this is such a powerfully character-driven novel and you really see Darius change and slowly start to find his place in the world.

Character-development, themes of family, friendship, and especially, acceptance of ones-self are such important elements to the story that truly make it such an impactful read! The depth to this novel from its characters, the writing, and development to the story, make Darius The Great Is Not Okay, a must read YA Contemporary & debut!

Running With Lions by Julian Winters Review

Running With Lions by Julian WintersRunning With Lions by Julian Winters

Publisher: Duet Books (Interlude Press)

Release Date: June 7, 2018

Pages: 320

Summary: Bloomington High School Lions’ star goalie, Sebastian Hughes, should be excited about his senior year: His teammates are amazing and he’s got a coach who doesn’t ask anyone to hide their sexuality. But when his estranged childhood best friend Emir Shah shows up to summer training camp, Sebastian realizes the team’s success may end up in the hands of the one guy who hates him. Determined to reconnect with Emir for the sake of the Lions, he sets out to regain Emir’s trust. But to Sebastian’s surprise, sweaty days on the pitch, wandering the town’s streets, and bonding on the weekends sparks more than just friendship between them.

*Bought an early copy from Yallwest*

My Rating:★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: Running With Lions is a fantastic YA Contemporary! With a dynamic cast of characters and page-turning plot, this novel follows senior Sebastian Hughes, goalie for Bloomington High’s soccer team! This novel follows him and his teams summer at Camp Haven to train for their upcoming fall game! Winters explores the complexities of love, friendship, and finding oneself in this unforgettable YA Debut!

Running With Lions was a book I had been looking forward to for a while! From the amazing cover + summary, and focus on soccer!

What I love about this book is that it explores sexuality in such an open way.

“No exclusions around here…Be who you are! Be proud! Treat each other like family!”

Seeing the team + coaches being supportive of each other and just having that strong friendship between Sebastian, Mason, Willie, the other team members, and Grey, the coach’s daughter, was just amazing to read!!

Sebastian is ready for summer! Spending it with his teammates at Camp Haven to train for one last season of soccer together, he’s ready!

Though things get a bit complicated when Sebastian notices his childhood friend Emir Shah is also on the team this season. Emir keeps to himself and pretty much avoids the team when he can (due to his shyness).

Though Sebastian is aware that their friendship during childhood is now over, he tries to get through to him and make him feel more at home with the team.

From a rocky start to early morning runs and training sessions to improve on his soccer skills, Sebastian finds himself trying to connect with his old friend again. This soon leads to something more!

Seeing their dynamic develop as they learn more as to why they grew apart was such a deeply explored aspect to their relationship and it was great seeing how they were able to look past it, accept, and start again!

Emir was such a great character! Through the teams eyes he seems like someone who just doesn’t care, but that is not the case! We see how lonely Emir has felt since his sudden move to the UK caused his friendship with Sebastian to crumble.

However, we see that Sebastian’s courage to make him feel part of the team regardless of their past, really allows Emir to see the team as family!

Told through a 3rd person POV, it allows you to get an overall + in-depth look at the characters, plot and builds the setting/summer atmosphere, which comes to life on the page!

The characters all are written and explored with such depth that they also come to life from their first introductions!

Each and every character is written in such a way where you know so much about them from such few words and you really find yourself connecting with each of them!

We also see there’s so much more to these characters than when we are first introduced to them! Over the course of this novel, we see how their friendships/relationships change and grow as the summer at camp progresses!

There’s just so much development to the Bloomington High team and each character was given a great amount of page time, so were able to see the many different sides to these teammates!

I also really loved Grey Patrick (Coach Patrick’s daughter, who tags along at Camp Haven)! She was just such a great character and I loved her interactions/moments with the guys, like Sebastian & Mason!
She’s fierce and confident and overall she was such an amazing character! I also loved Willie, he was also one of my favorites!

Over the course of the novel Grey and Willie go through their own journeys, which are really given enough page time as we see them develop over the course of the story!

While its mentioned he has a knee injury in the beginning, we see how Willie’s soccer training develops and changes, as does the relationships + dynamics that grow among his friends/teammates throughout the book.

Both Grey & Willie’s journeys were given such interesting development and I loved following each of them throughout the book! Their personalities shined with each page!

There’s also such a diverse cast of characters, which was great to see!! Sebastian who identifies as bisexual, Emir who is pakistani-muslim + gay, Willie is gay, Hunter is black, & Gio is stated to be hispanic.

Winters also explores sexuality in such an open and honest way thorough out the entire novel! The team is very accepting and having that is so important to Sebastian as we see throughout Running With Lions.

Sebastian was such a complex main character! What I loved exploring through his POV (which I don’t see much of in YA), is life after high school and being unsure of what that future holds.

Winters explores this element so well throughout the entire book that it gradually becomes an even more recurring thought from Sebastian as he gets closer to the start of his Senior year!

Additionally, Winters explores so well the side of Sebastian who questions who exactly he is without soccer as the thoughts of college, the future, and the future of friends comes into play.

*I also recommend checking out Kris Hui Lee’s Out Of Left Field if your looking for another sports (baseball) YA Contemporary that discusses future after high school in a unique way * 

Running With Lions is fantastic Coming-Of-Age YA Contemporary that explores sexuality in an open and honest way! With a supportive cast of diverse characters, great writing, and themes of friendship throughout, this is a great YA Contemporary to check out!

The Last 8 by Laura Pohl Cover Reveal

The Last 8 by Laura Pohl is a 2019 YA Sci-Fi Debut that I am beyond excited to read! To start, it follows a Latina pilot (the Latinx rep. makes me beyond happy)!! 😭✨🛩🌌

The story essentially revolves around the pilot, Clover who finds herself alone after an alien attack, but soon meets a group of survivors who aren’t what they seem!

Ever since it was announced I’d been really looking forward to reading Pohl’s debut and its definitely a must read for me in 2019!!

From the mystery surrounding the plot, the #OwnVoices Latinx/Bi rep., and an overall fascinating story, I cannot wait to read this book!!

Also, The Last 8 gives off a really mysterious, sci-fi audio drama vibe which I am so here for!! 😆✨🎙🛸

As of May 28, the cover + excerpt for The Last 8 was revealed via Barnes & Noble Teen Blog

Here’s a full summary for The Last 8:

A high-stakes survival story about eight teenagers who outlive an alien attack!
Clover Martinez has always been a survivor, which is the only reason she isn’t among the dead when aliens invade and destroy Earth as she knows it.

When Clover hears an inexplicable radio message, she’s shocked to learn there are other survivors—and that they’re all at the former Area 51. When she arrives, she’s greeted by a band of misfits who call themselves The Last Teenagers on Earth.

Only they aren’t the ragtag group of heroes Clover was expecting. The group seems more interested in hiding than fighting back, and Clover starts to wonder if she was better off alone. But then she finds a hidden spaceship, and she doesn’t know what to believe…or who to trust.

Now for the cover:

The Last 8 by Laura Pohl

This is a spectacular cover!! (´▽`ʃƪ)♥♥

Not only does The Last 8 sound phenomenal, but the amazing cover just has me even more excited to get my hands on this book!! 😍♥♥

I love the colors and the textured look to it.

The use of a vibrant greenish yellow, among the white and black, and progression from light to dark really brings a brightness to the cover!

I also really love the text used for The Last 8 it really gives off a sci-fi vibe to it!!

Overall I adore this cover and it really brings an element of mystery to the story as well!!

The Last 8 by Laura Pohl is set to be released March 5, 2019!

So what are your thoughts on The Last 8 Cover?? Are you planning to read it??

Lets Discuss In The Comments! 😄✨💫🌌