What a FANTASTIC middle grade series. Wild woods, magical creatures, conflicts, and a girl with the power of a queen inside her - oh my!
Character development: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★ 1/2
The Unready Queen is the sequel to Changeling, the first novel in the Oddmire series. Please read my review on Changeling here to avoid spoilers for the first novel.
So let's start of with a simple "wow," because this was such a great read. The Unready Queen picks up on the threads of the Wild Wood's story left behind at the end of Changeling and expands them in new directions. And not just any new direction, but toward a testy one: the Wild Wood's relationship with humans.
Fable is the daughter of the Queen of the Deep Dark, the protector of the Wild Wood and its magical inhabitants. At the end of the first book, when twins Tinn and Cole restore magic to the magical folk of the woods, they think their problems are over. Magic has returned, Fable can now be friends with humans, and all is well.
Well, not exactly.
There's a new man in town, and his name is Jacob Hill. He's interested in oil drilling—a topic instantly triggering for environmentalists, so I can bet you can see where this is going—and yep, you guessed it, he's decided to start crumbling away at the borders of the Wild Wood for financial gain. What could go wrong? To Hill, the woods are woods and the townsfolk's hesitation to go into the woods is a weakness he can exploit.
Rousing the town against the Wild Wood, Jacob Hill makes one very big, unforgivable mistake: he takes down an ancient magical tree.
Now the folk of the Wild Wood are pissed, and with their magic returned to them it is time for a reckoning—and the half-human Queen of the Deep Dark isn't to be trusted.
But what about Fable?
With the threads of destiny twining Fable, Tinn, Cole, and the usual cast tighter and tighter, it's only a matter of time before Fable has to decide who she's going to be and how that decision will impact those around her.
As this is a sequel, my initial reading experience was comparing it to the first one, and to answer the obvious, YES, this one was not only just as good, but better. I loved that this novel did not rehash the same messages or tropes—whereas the first novel deal with self-identity and ideas of family, The Unready Queen tackles concepts of responsibility, environmentalism, and finding your voice. This is very much Fable's story.
I will say that this novel is not as laugh-out-loud funny as the first one, but given the subject matter that makes a lot of sense. I appreciated the more somber tones interspersed with small moments of humor, love, and typical pre-teen antics.
My only real complaint is that it took a while for the story to get off the ground. I'm not sure if that was a pacing issue or just a personal thing for me as a reader, but I found the beginning much slower than the first book and extremely slow compared to its second half.
Thrilled to hear there will be a third book in 2021. Can't wait!
Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
I was primed to love this because I love creepy woods, magic, goblins, and fairy tales... but this still surprised me anyway.
Changeling was such a fun middle grade read. Obviously I'm not the target audience, but this story entranced me and stuck out regardless. Good writing is good writing.
We all know the changeling story: in the dead of the night, a magical creature steals your baby and replaces it with an identical copy—the changeling. You then raise the being as your own. You never see your own human baby again.
But what if the goblin in charge of the switch messed up?
Kull the goblin stole his goblin horde's last changeling and is determined to do it himself. Golbin magic is fading, and Kull knows he must perform the historic ritual of stealing a human baby to set magic's balance in order again.
But as Kull places the changeling in the crib, the human baby's mother wakes up and interrupts him, forcing Kull to leave BOTH babies behind. Uh oh.
Tinn and Cole grow up as twins, knowing that one of them isn't the "real" boy. It doesn't bother them much. Annie Burton, their mother, is amazing--a boy is a boy, and she loves both of her troublesome boys equally. So what if she only gave birth to one? Now she has two.
But Kull hasn't forgotten. He spends 12 years watching, waiting, and trying to figure out which of the boys is his boy, the goblin. And he's running out of time... when the changeling turns 13 years old, he NEEDS to be back home in the magical world or he'll be in a lot of trouble—deadly trouble.
But how is a goblin to convince two wayward boys to come to the goblin horde?
It's time to draw them into the Wild Wood. With a map, they'll make it through just fine. The woods are only dangerous if you don't know where you're going. But these are two 12 year old boys...
...and they've just lost the map.
Wow. I loved this. My favorite aspect was easily Annie Burton, the boys' mother. The author's description of her determined to find her wayward boys is surprisingly both heartfelt and hilarious. This is not fairy tale where the mother finds the note that her children are missing and spends it wailing - she's their mother, darn it, and she's going to find them and bring them home. The theme of resilient motherhood is extremely strong in this novel.
I also LOVED the humor. Like the best of the middle grade genre, this novel has humor for both kids and parents alike - the adult asides are funny for adults, and yet the jokes and antics are funny for the kids too. It's a delicate balance to strike, but the author does this really well as I spent a lot of time laughing.
Overall, a fantastic read. Looking forward to the next installment!
Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for a copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.
In verse, gorgeous, slice of life yet not, amazingly heartfelt and surprisingly lighthearted coming-of-age.
The Black Flamingo totally shocked me. First it shocked me because I bought it and didn't realize it was written in verse. Then it shocked me because I read it in one sitting. And then it shocked me at how amazing it was—which shouldn't have been shocking, but to be honest as it was my first verse novel and I'm NOT a fan of poetry, I thought that would impact my enjoyment. WOW it did not. I loved it.
Michael is half-Jamaican and half-Greek, and growing up in London during the 2010s. His Greek mother raises him and his half-sister surrounded with love and expectations. (One of the most important things to pull from Michael's earlier life is the importance of his mother's presence in his life—I loved its realness and its love.)
As Michael navigates growing up gay and biracial in a predominantly white/straight school district, we as the reader are treated to individual scenes that peel back Michael's thoughts and feelings and simultaneously throw us at lightning speed through his early years, middle school, high school, and most memorably, college.
It's hard to go into the details as the verse format feels so brief and deep. But trust me - this novel is packed with positive messaging, raw emotions, coming-of-age goodness, and the enduring thread of finding your truth.
This was such a beautiful read. In particular, I think it's worth mentioning that this novel is about Michael, for Michael, and ends with Michael. I loved the window into his internal thoughts...this was probably a direct result of the verse format. It felt so intimate.
Also, talk about an important piece of the YA contemporary canon. It's important to have queer tales that focus on all aspects of the teen experience, and this was a wonderful piece of the pie. It was uplifting, lighthearted, filled with positive and loving family relationships, and full of the usual bits of teen life: am I liked? am I loved? who am I? who do I want to be? do I be what my family is, do I follow their path? can I do both? do I need to choose now?
Good questions, and Michael gives great answers. Fantastic debut.
I LOVED THIS. I wish this had existed when I was in high school. The girl I was could have used this happy, hopeful book.
Main character: ★★★★★
The ending: maybe controversial, but I LOVED the ending in particular
Winnie is ready for another summer spent in her grandma's small-town diner, waiting on tables and hanging out with her ungirlfriend. She's comfortable in her space, in her life, and she's just waiting of for the summer's good times to come before she goes off to college.
But the summer has other plans for Winnie.
First off, their small town's annual Queen selection (where one resident is chosen as "Queen" for the summer and has a volunteer "King" to attend events with) takes a twist. Winnie, who didn't enter and hates public speaking, wins. She's a plus-size black girl in a small town, and she DID NOT ask for the spotlight. But when it's thrust on her, there's no choice.
And then things get even more interesting when Dallas, one of the most attractive boys in town, volunteers to be her King.
Winnie and Kara, two partners who refer to themselves as ungirlfriends—also mentioned as "Queerplatonic" in the novel—now have to navigate the complexities of romance, friendship, bonds, and what it means for Winnie, who's attracted to Dallas, and Kara, who isn't sexually interested in anyone but is bonded to Winnie, to deal with the new layers to their life.
I have literally nothing negative to say, besides one tiny tiny spoiler (located at the bottom of this review in italic). Outside of the spoiler, I loved LITERALLY everything about this story. I loved the positive fat girl representation. I loved Winnie's strong sense of self, her purpose, her drive, and her unwillingness to compromise her moral compass for the weak personalities around her.
I also loved the romantic relationships and navigation of queerplatonic (which I learned for this book!) and, in a way, discussions of polyamory and the extremely different permutations of what that looks like. I also loved the strong happy messages at work in this novel. AND, before I devolve into endless streams of "love this love this love this," I also loved the negotiation of families, and how sometimes... you both can grow out of family and realize that family isn't the be all, end all. Very deftly done.
SPOILER: Winnie didn't put her name in the jar to be considered for Queen...and we never find out who put her name in. So that felt like an abandoned plot thread. But at the same time, that didn't matter in the scheme of the plot so I honestly forgot about it until I finished the book and tried to write this review.
5 unlimited stars
Riveting, heartbreaking, soul-mending, and ultimately a beacon of hope.
Black Girl Unlimited should be required reading. I wish I'd read it in school. I would have been a different person earlier, sooner. This was one of the most poignant reads I have ever read, and Echo Brown deserves every standing ovation, every "oh my gosh you have to read this book" friendly push, and every accolade. This was, simply, a showstopper debut.
Part coming-of-age novel, part fabulism, part reflection on the state of being black in America, and part story of female resilience in the heart of abuse and oppression—it's impossible to distill this novel down to a review that means something. I feel almost like a fool for trying, but I want you to read this so bear with me.
Echo lives on the East Side of Cleveland in the 1990s. It's world away from the West Side, at the rich white people school that she's allowed to attend. Her situation is a parable for many other young black women in the city, but at the same time a stunningly personal journey through her own life in and separate from those around her.
You see, Echo is a wizard.
She's not the kind of wizard with the wand and the hat. Her magic doesn't appear as a spell or incantation. This kind of wizardry is special—and allegorical. Echo, her mother, her female friends, and a memorable female mentor are all wizards. Black women are wizards. For being able to survive the pain, the circumstance, and the reality and still maintain the inner light that is their voice? That's wizardry.
Black Girl Unlimited is a story about a girl, named Echo, who's learning the steps to be a wizard. The steps are steep, she'll often fall back on herself. But she'll get there, and you'll cheer her on at every step and cry at every hurdle.
"Hard-hitting contemporary" fits in this context, but don't let that stop you. This is the story of a wizard who learns how to channel her own light in a world of darkness. It's beautiful.
Trigger Warnings: Parental drug use, overdose, violence, car accident, sexual abuse, triggering language around sexual abuse, rape, discussions of suicide.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.