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December 26, 2019

2 Young Adult Novels

by MK French

Do you have teens home for the holidays? Are you looking for some quiet time? Then pick up these books for your young adult.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

September 2019; Make Me a World
audio, ebook, print (208 pages); Art fiction
Children in the city of Lucille are taught that monsters no longer exist. Jam soon meets Pet, a creature created out of one of her mother's paintings and a drop of Jam's blood. Pet has come to hunt a monster living in the home of Redemption, Jam's best friend. Something definitely lurks in Redemption's house, so Jam has to protect her best friend and uncover the truth in a world that won't admit that monsters still exist after all.

This is a novel geared to young adults and poses difficult questions and choices for the characters. The introduction not only tells us who the monsters were, those who shot children or abused power in myriad ways but also introduces the fact that Jam uses sign language to communicate outside of her family. Redemption replies in words but easily understands her signs and that Jam continually looks for more information and learning. She isn't content with pat answers and ellipses in the history taught in schools, and her mother is exceedingly honest about the past of Lucille: "Angels aren't pretty pictures in old holy books, just like monsters aren't ugly pictures. It's all just people, doing hard things or bad things. But is all just people, our people."

The language from page one is lyrical and beautifully flowing, and even the description of Jam's gender identity is wonderful. Her parents are understanding and supportive, helping her reach the reality of who she is from the start. They're good people, sure that the monsters of old are all gone, and afraid of the fact that Pet was summoned. Instead of going for the easy answers, Jam keeps Pet in her world, set on finding out who the monster is and wanting to stop it. She has to see what isn't usually seen and face her own fears about what would be found once she sees it. On top of that, she had to keep Pet a secret from her parents, and the fear of secrets weighs on her as well.

This is a great story for middle-grade readers as well as young adults and can be used as a way to broach the subject of injustice and child abuse. Nothing is explicitly outlined, in keeping with the fact that Jam is still a teenager and called a child repeatedly. The responsibility of finding out about the abuse and revealing it a large one, and despite her fears she forges ahead. The simplicity of her task doesn't mean it isn't difficult or stresses the relationships that she has. This is a story that haunts in a different kind of way than most monster stories because the monster can be anyone, even those you trust most.

Buy Pet at Amazon

Realm by Alexandra Weis

 May 2019; Vesuvian Books; 978-1944109486
ebook, print (399 pages); historical fiction
Roxana is the half Persian daughter of the Bactrian chief. When her homeland is captured by Alexander the Great when she is sixteen, she's chosen as one of his brides. This thrusts her in the middle of political turmoil, deadly plots, jealous rivals and the stigma of being considered a barbarian. While she can never carry the title of Queen, she still has considerable influence over Alexander, and through him, the world.

This is based on the true story of Roxana and shows the power that women carried behind the scenes. Their names rarely carry forward in history, so this historical novel does a fantastic job of fleshing out her story for a modern audience. We have her sister explaining the role of women in the time period: to be married off to wealthy men and to bear sons for them, which Roxana rails against. She would rather continue to learn things, ride horses and not have to rely on her frequently mentioned beauty to gain an advantageous marriage. In fact, she'd rather not be married at all. This is not to be, as Alexander and his armies have come to continue conquering all of the known world, her family's lands included.

There is a lot of detail regarding the rumors in the camps as Alexander's war progresses, as well as the push and pull between them. Roxana hates the idea of being a conquered treasure to be tucked away more than the rumors and scorn that the others give her. She's isolated in the camp, only knowing Alexander and a handful of his most trusted advisors, and I really felt for her loneliness and difficulty with finding a place in this life she was thrust into. Alexander is certainly confident as a king and conqueror, though he is very human in his desire to be loved for himself, and to try to make his mark on the world. General Hephaestion as his friend is also a support for Roxana, giving her insight into his character.

Because Roxana isn't opposed to working or doing physical activity, she earns the respect of the people and generals around her. It's the continued strength of character that impresses others, as well as her devotion to Alexander no matter what happens. In time, he learns what makes her tick, which made me like him a little more. Of course, I felt for Roxana, with all the loss and pain she had to endure throughout the novel, but it was definitely work to get me to like Alexander and his generals!

The book spans several years, so it covers a number of tragedies in Roxana's life, as well as that of Alexander and the higher ranking generals in their lives. This gives the book a rambling quality at times, as life tends to ebb and flow. The novel continues past the death of Hephaestion and Alexander, and into the tribulations of the generals as they scramble for power. It's a desperate and tense situation that continues for years as Roxana tries to navigate the power plays and stay alive. It's a heart-wrenching story, and one that lingered for a long time after I finished reading it.

Buy Realm at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband and three young children.

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