The Cursed Child, by Jack Thorne – 3.5 stars
Oh, The Cursed Child. I’m a little heartbroken that I didn’t get to spend the release day like I used to for a new Harry Potter release (buying the book at the crack of dawn, and then spending the rest of the day ploughing through it) due to silly adult responsibilities. But when I finally got to read it, I really enjoyed it. It certainly had its issues, especially in the beginning. Just after the fifty page mark I was convinced it was going to be a huge mess but, even if it wasn’t anywhere near perfect, I do think it redeemed itself. It gave us a bit more time with the characters we love and a delightful introduction to the next generation of Hogwarts. I’ll admit, I do think JKR probably needs to stop here. But I can’t get over how adorable Scorpius is, and how sweet the relationship between him and Albus is. I also need so much more Rose Granger-Weasley in my life. So, against my better judgement, my heart is very open to seeing more of these precious kids.
Following Jesus in Invaded Space, by Chris Budden – 4 stars
In this book, Chris Budden (a white Australian author) attempts to establish a ‘second people’s theology’ for the non-Indigenous church, exploring our responsibility to the Aboriginal community given our complicity in the invasion, dispossession, and oppression of Australia’s Indigenous peoples. I really appreciate the introductory feeling of this book – it retraced some familiar ground for me, in terms of discussing the social construction of our racial narratives and how racial inequality operates, but also served gave a more detailed understanding of Indigenous history and how these issues operate in an Australian church context. I thought that this could be remarkable tool for introducing a critical perspective to how people go about their lives and approach their faith – and there’s no place more appropriate to start than interrogating colonisation, which is fundamental to how many of us came to be here and defines our relationship with this country’s First Peoples. The book explained complex topics in accessible language, and laid out the foundation for further critical thought in a way that could be useful to many people and communities of faith.
Heat and Light, by Ellen Van Neerven – 3 stars
I was hoping to like this a lot more than I did, but judging by all the positive Goodreads reviews, I think that this book and I just weren’t the best match. It was mostly contemporary literary fiction with some magical realism and speculative elements. Literary fiction can be a bit of a hard sell for me so I try to be discerning with my picks, but sadly this one didn’t come through. Of the three novellas in this collection, my favourite was ‘Water’. (Which is unsurprising – I was convinced to buy this book because someone described the story as ‘Orphan Black femslash’, something that we all need more of in our lives.) A really fascinating dystopian vision of an Australian future, exploring colonisation, environmental degradation, institutional corruption, the failures of paternalistic politicians, and Indigenous resistance. I would be curious to see more from this world, or this story told in a more fleshed out way. ‘Water’ was also the most consistent story in the book, staying with the same characters the whole way through. The stories in ‘Heat’ and ‘Light’ followed a range of different characters, and it felt really fragmented to me. In ‘Heat’, I found the first character and Pearl the most compelling, and while Pearl did return in a couple of the later chapters, we also spent a lot of time with other far less interesting members of the Kresinger family. The stories in ‘Light’ were even more disconnected from each other so I found most of the stories dissatisfying, although I really enjoyed the final story. I will keep a curious eye out for more of Ellen Van Neervan’s work.
Otherbound, by Corinne Duyvis – 4 stars
Nolan and Amara share a psychic connection – whenever Nolan, who lives in our world, blinks his eyes, he is inside Amara’s head. He sees what she sees, hears all of her thoughts, and feels everything she experiences. Amara comes from a universe with magic, feuding mages and ministers, and a dethroned princess on the run. When Nolan is suddenly able to exercise greater power over Amara than ever before and his presence becomes known, the two have to work together to save each other and confront the conspiracy engulfing Amara’s world.
Before discussing this book, I have to quote my favourite review because it always makes me smile:
I think we’ve all seen those posts where some douchebro is like “not every thing needs a bisexual low-income mute woman of color who use sign language or a one-legged epileptic Latino guy”. Those examples are done in the spirit of spiteful condescension, like it would be TOTALLY RIDICULOUS to have a story like that. Which is why it gives me exceptional pleasure to say:
Go home boys, Corinne Duyvis has just pwned you all.
I think the best thing about the diversity of the main characters in this book is that it makes perfect sense in the context of their lives, and their identities are fully formed on the page. Their disabilities and racial backgrounds are not the point of the story, but it is impossible to imagine Amara and Nolan without them. And I think it’s doubly special given how ‘difference’ is often represented allegorically in speculative fiction (especially for a younger audience) – instead of having diverse characters, it is not unusual for fantasy novels to use magical creatures to explore issues of discrimination and oppression. And while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – the potential that speculative fiction has to challenge us through such imaginative storytelling is one of my absolute favourite things about it – it also disappointingly often means that diverse social groups are not given actual representation. Other than this, Otherbound felt like a fairly conventional young adult fantasy novel. Although it didn’t quite hit the mark for me, I also couldn’t put it down. The plot was compelling, the world-building was interesting, and I really enjoyed the time I spent with Amara, Nolan, and Cilla. (But also, I need more Amara/Cilla pls & ty.)
Educating for Action: Strategies to Ignite Social Justice, edited by Jason Del Gandio and Anthony J. Nocella II – 4 stars
A primer on social justice activism and community organising. Some of the content was quite introductory – addressing the basics of things like writing, public speaking, and using social media – but I appreciated how comprehensive a guide this was for beginners. As someone with a little more experience, I don’t believe I’ve seen anything which pulls information on activism together like this before, so I think this is a really valuable and accessible resource.
Flygirl, by Sherri L. Smith – 5 stars
I fell in love with this book almost instantly. Flygirl is the incredible and moving story of a girl in Louisiana who desperately dreams of becoming a pilot. When the Women Airforce Service Pilots are established during World War 2, she sees her chance. There’s just one problem – Ida Mae Jones is black. Because she is light enough to pass as white, she makes the difficult decision to hide her racial identity while contributing to the U.S. war effort for the sake of her older brother, who is deployed in the Philippines.
The book provides a powerful and nuanced portrait of the racial issues facing young black women in U.S. society, from a range of everyday microaggressions to the significant danger Ida would face if her racial identity was discovered. It also beautifully represents her relationships with other women – her mother, and her friends at home and at the WASP. They are complex and challenging, but ultimately, these relationships are sources of comfort, strength and courage. (And speaking of Ida’s friends, I am about this close to making a shrine to Patsy, I loved her so much.)
As someone who is passionate about the empowerment of girls and young women, reading this book made my heart so full of joy and pride in Ida. She faces incredibly difficult choices and circumstances but she is hardworking and always tries to honour her commitments to both her family and her dreams, even as they pull her in different directions. Honestly, I absolutely loved this book.