Welcome back to Shannon’s Hot Takes! As I attempted to title September’s blog, I thought about the three very different titles that I am reviewing, and at first couldn’t think of anything they had in common. An Argentinean werewolf tale, a residential school graphic novel, and a Nigerian-inspired fantasy–what could they possibly have in common that would make a witty title? But then I realized that each of them, in their own way, addresses how people can be afraid of those who are different from them, and how that can lead to hatred, persecution, and death. I did not consciously set out to read three things with this theme in common last month. But that this theme keeps cropping up, in perhaps unexpected places, gives me hope. Hope that the publishing world will keep releasing books by #OwnVoices authors, and that through fiction or non-fiction, those who read them will be changed by seeing through another’s eyes. Our differences should be treasured, and I believe what makes us great.
I checked out the physical copy of each of these books, but I do note in the individual review if they are available digitally through Hoopla or Overdrive. Please let me know in the comments if you have read, or plan on reading, any of these titles!
Cazadora by Romina Garber
Cazadora is the sequel to the #OwnVoices novel Lobizona, released last summer. Because this book is a sequel, and I do not know if any of you have read the first one or not, I will not give away very many of the plot details to either book. I don’t want to ruin them for you!
Manuela Azul, or Manu, as she likes to be called, lives a very small existence in Miami. She and her mother are undocumented immigrants from Argentina, hiding not only from ICE but also Manu’s father’s crime family. She rarely ever leaves the small apartment she shares with her mother and surrogate grandmother, and when she does, she must wear sunglasses to hide her unusual eyes. She does not know why, but she has the most unusual eyes–sunshine yellow with star-shaped pupils. In the first book, she discovers a hidden world from Argentinean folklore, where the seventh son is a lobizon, or werewolf, and the seventh daughter is a bruja, or witch. As you can tell by the title of the first book, Manu realizes she is a female werewolf, a human hybrid–the first ever. And her entire existence is illegal in this magical world. The second book picks up right where the first book leaves off, with Manu and her friends on the run from the authorities who would prosecute Manu for her accident of birth. They eventually meet up with a resistance group that are trying to break the rigid gender roles of their society, and make a place where all can belong.
I loved the first book so much (I read it in almost one sitting) that I was the first person to check out Cazadora when it arrived at the library. I was eager to see where Manu and her friends would end up, and how they would find help and stay hidden from the Cazadores, the police force. Would she be reunited with her mother, who was arrested by ICE? Would there be a revolution in their magical world? I must say, this sequel was very different than what I expected it to be–and in a good way! The author did not follow the usual YA trope of “The Chosen One.” I appreciated that the teens realized that they could not act alone, and sought out help from others (including adults!). And the ending of the book came from so far out of left field that I was reeling after the last page. Now I have to wait for the third installment, but I know it will be worth it.
Romina Garber’s mixing of Argentinean mythology and real world issues is flawless, and her writing is magical. Do not read this book whilst hungry–the descriptions of Argentinean delicacies made my mouth water (anyone know of a good Argentinean restaurant here in St. Louis?). I highly recommend these books to anyone who loves Harry Potter, werewolves playing futbol (a version of it, anyway), and Love–romantic, familial, and platonic. And if you do read Lobizona and Cazadora, come see me so we can discuss the Coven and la Mar Oscura!
Cazadora is available on Overdrive in audiobook form: https://mlcstl.overdrive.com/mlcstl-kirkwood/content/media/5715379
Sugar Falls: A Residential School Story by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Scott B. Henderson, Colours by Donovan Yaciuk
Sugar Falls is a graphic novel that relates the story of Cree Elder Betty Ross’s experience at the Cross Lake Indian Residential School in Canada. Residential schools for Native American and First Nation peoples have been in the news a lot lately–as they should–and so I thought this would be a perfect time to write about the 10th anniversary edition of this novel that was just released. Daniel, a white boy, is given a school assignment to interview an elder about their residential school experiences. He asks his friend April, who is Cree, if she can help him, and she asks her grandmother to speak with him. Betty relates her abandonment by her mother as a small child, being adopted into a loving family, learning and cherishing the Cree language and culture from her father, and then her cruel separation from them to attend the imposing school across the lake. It is run by the Catholic Church, and the abuses the Native children had to endure there is just incomprehensible. But she does endure, keeping in her spirit the words of her father and never losing sight of her Cree identity.
Author David A. Robertson is an award-winning Cree author, and interviewed Elder Betty Ross himself to document this story. It is short, but powerfully told. The illustrations by Scott B. Henderson are beautiful, focusing a lot on the facial expressions of the characters. I also liked that the colors were vibrant during the parts of the story where Betty was with her family, or in the present when she was telling her tale. The sections where she was at the school are subdued and beige, like the clothing they were forced to wear there. Everything comes together to create an emotional, visceral experience.
This is not an easy read, but it is a vital one. It shows the resilience and strength of the indigenous peoples of North America. They have survived despite the attempted genocide of their bodies and their culture. They are still here, and their demands for recompense for the past are valid. Remember, this did not happen that long ago. Elder Betty Ross and many others like her are still with us. Everyone should read this book.
Sugar Falls is available on Overdrive in ebook format: https://mlcstl.overdrive.com/mlcstl-kirkwood/content/media/6207165
Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
This is an adult fantasy title that I think could be enjoyed by older teens 16 and up. It does have mild sexual content and some violence and gore.
Danso is a scholar-in-training in the ancient city of Bassa on the continent of Oon, a West African-inspired setting. He is looked down upon, however, because he is Shashi, or of mixed heritage between the pureblood Idu and the lighter-skinned people of the mysterious islands. But he has a photographic memory, which makes him a good candidate to become a jali, one who tells the history and stories of Bassa. He is engaged to be married to Esheme, a lawyer-in-training and also a sort of outcast, for her mother is not of the Idu but is their fixer of problems. Their world is upended when rumors of a yellowskin, or someone from the Nameless Islands, is spotted in the capital, and then the rediscovery of a unique magic based on stone bones. Danso flees the city and begins to understand the world outside of the rigid caste structure of Bassa, and his discoveries could topple the empire.
This is a political intrigue fantasy, which is not really my cup of tea. When I read fantasy, I don’t want to think about governments and backstabbing and such, but that is just me. I do know that there are many readers out there who love a good intrigue. However, I still enjoyed the book because Okungbowa’s writing is elegant and precise. His descriptions were so well-done. And I loved the fact that everyone in this novel is of African descent, and that the upper caste is based on how dark your skin is–as a white American, this was so different and a breath of fresh air. The yellowskins (a term he explains on Goodreads that is used in Africa to describe those born with albinism) are looked down upon and treated with suspicion because of the lack of melanin in their skin, hair, and eyes. The intricate caste system in Bassa can be confusing at times, but it also showcases the inequality that people can face when judged only by the way they look.
The other reason I kept reading was the unusual magic system, based on a stone called ibor. It is unlike anything I have read before, and the cost (because all magic comes with a cost) is brutal. Each chapter is told in limited third person by a different character (stated at the beginning of the chapter), and that creates more layers to the story as you get to see how the different characters react to their circumstances. This was not a book that I sped through–no, it required a savoring of each paragraph and page to catch all the nuances. If you are an older teen or adult who appreciates beautiful language and intense political and social intrigue, than this should definitely be added to your TBR list!