Rani Patel In Full Effect is the debut young adult novel by author and child psychologist Sonia Patel, a resident of Hawaii and devout hip-hop enthusiast born to Gujarati parents. The novel follows the life of Rani Patel, a teenager living on the island of Molokaʻi with her mother and father. Rani is similarly devoted to '80s and '90s hip-hop music and shares much of the author’s background and heritage, but even with all of the obvious similarities, Rani is a fully developed character in her own right and should not be written off by readers as a “self-insert” author proxy. We see her grow and change over the course of the book, and to say that Rani Patel In Full Effect chronicles a tumultuous period of the titular character’s life would be putting it mildly. At times, the events and subject matter are downright unsettling — which is important.
Rani Patel is not a typical young adult novel protagonist. She isn’t white, to begin with, or shoe-horned into any particular high school caste, or fighting to save the world. Patel’s novel is, at its core, about trauma, and she does an outstanding job depicting the realities of recovery, if not the time frame. This book pulls no punches, and I respect the hell out of that and enjoyed reading it thoroughly. Sonia Patel is clearly interested in talking about the realities of being a teenager — not an adult’s notion of what that means — and the end product is dark. Very, very dark. But so is that reality, sometimes. Yet through music and the love and support of friends and family, Rani learns how to express what she’s gone through and finally acknowledge that her feelings and fears are valid.
And don’t get me wrong, this book isn’t all darkness. In addition to a cast of characters as culturally rich and diverse as Hawaii itself, Sonia Patel’s narrative is sprinkled through with '90s hip-hop slang and native Hawaiian phrases that let the reader play interpreter (supported by a helpful glossary, of course), and I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the poetry and raps that Rani labors over for the entirety of the novel. I would love to see Sonia Patel, who raps herself, drop the Rani Patel mixtape in the future, but the words stand on their own merit on the page and the author’s detailed description of every beat laid down by “DJ Skittles” make it easy for the reader to transport themselves to the pavilion at Pala’au State Park where Rani’s crew performs.
Rani Patel In Full Effect is a refreshing and important addition to the culture of YA novels as a whole. It covers so many bases and demographics normally marginalized by the mainstream that I don’t even know where to begin. Rani herself is an Indo-American teenager, acutely aware of her own sexuality, whose life has been defined by men her entire life, just like her mother and grandmother before her. She fights for native Hawaiian rights with her friends and she strives to be the first woman in her family to get an M.D. Interwoven with Rani’s story, Sonia Patel writes about the crystal meth epidemic that has plagued Hawaii for decades and decries a toxic tourist culture that preys on residents. As far as first books go, Rani Patel In Full Effect is a knockout. You can learn more about Sonia Patel’s writing endeavors and work in child psychology at her website, and you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram, where she will occasionally grace her followers with clips of her rap skills and sick dance moves.
For some, having magic run in your family would be pretty cool; you could heal injuries, conjure light and even talk to the dead. But for Alex, who watched magic drive away her father and distort her memories of her favorite aunt, magic is nothing but trouble and pain. Seeking to escape her family’s struggles, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her magic. But in Zoraida Córdova’s Labyrinth Lost, rejecting the gifts of your ancestors comes with horrific consequences, and Alex is going to have to work very hard to fix her mistake if she ever wants to see her family again.
The trouble begins on Alex’s Deathday, the day her entire family (living and dead) gather to bestow their blessings on a bruja, or witch, newly come into her power. When Alex damages the cantos they were performing, she calls an entity known as the Devourer, who then steals her family away. To rescue them, Alex will have to journey to the world of Los Lagos, an in-between limbo where nothing is what it seems, accompanied by Rishi, her best friend, and an untrustworthy brujo named Nova. There, she’ll have to face horrific monsters, powerful curses and her own painful memories as she begins to understand not only her role as one of the most powerful bruja in a generation, but also her place in the long tradition of her family.
Córdova expertly blends Latin American traditions, Latinx culture and urban fantasy to create a fresh, richly detailed story filled with diverse characters, but Labyrinth Lost isn’t just about magic. Alex’s physical journey may take her through the twisted wonderland of Los Lagos, but her emotional journey requires her to work through her fears and anger in learning to accept her family’s love and acceptance.
Fans of the book should know this is the first of the Brooklyn Brujas trilogy, although there’s no publication date yet for the second book. Readers who enjoyed Daughter of Smoke and Bone or When the Moon Was Ours should consider giving Labyrinth Lost a try.
Crooked Kingdom is Leigh Bardugo’s second near-perfect and engaging venture into the city of Ketterdam, and her fifth foray into the world first introduced in her bestselling Grisha Trilogy (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising). I’ll freely admit that the Grisha trilogy was not my cup of tea at all, but Six of Crows (Bardugo’s first book in the duology of the same name) was easily my favorite read of 2015. Ketterdam, the cosmopolitan capitol city of Dutch Republic-inspired Kerch, is a vibrant combination of Amsterdam, Las Vegas and New York; a bustling hub of education, trade and crime. It’s in the Barrel—the lascivious, indulgent entertainment district of Ketterdam— that Kaz Brekker’s gang of criminals, outcasts and misfits find themselves reeling from the events of the previous book. The Six of Crows duology is not two stories, but one long epic told in two parts.
The greatest strength of both books is easily the characters, but that’s more a testament of how fully realized and interesting they are than it is a condemnation of any other aspect. As the glue and primary motivating force of the narrative events, Kaz is somehow equal parts sympathetic and unsettling and is easily the best teen protagonist I’ve ever encountered.
Six of Crows has a split focus, however, with every chapter focusing on the perspective of a different character. I’m not usually a fan of this technique, as in my experience there are always some weaker characters that drag down the flow and only leave you longing for the chapters of characters you enjoy. I’m happy to report that Leigh Bardugo proved me wrong. Not one of these six perspectives is any less enjoyable or dynamic than the others. The story slips between them easily and feels completely natural, and Bardugo weaves the different threads of this narrative together seamlessly.
The first book is, in essence, a heist story with a fantasy twist, but as fans of the genre know, a good heist story doesn't end when the job does. There are always betrayals, broken hearts or some other complications that throw a wrench into the plan. Crooked Kingdom is no exception, as we see Kaz’s gang playing defense for the majority of the book in a definite departure from Six of Crows, where they successfully pulled of the biggest heist in the Grishaverse’s history. The second book is about survival , though Kaz Brekker wouldn’t be Kaz Brekker if he couldn’t spin a profit out of the situation. It’s fitting that Crooked Kingdom takes place on an island that worships the god of trade and deals, since nothing is without a price, not even the reader’s enjoyment of the book. By the end it exacts a heavy toll on the audience, and I found myself tearing up more than once.
I would (and do) recommend the Six of Crows duology to anyone and everyone, not just readers who enjoy fantasy, crime novels or teen books. Crooked Kingdom is my favorite book of 2016, just as its predecessor occupied that spot in 2015. These books truly do contain something for everyone, and I was disappointed to discover that this would not be another trilogy. Fortunately, I get the impression that Leigh Bardugo is far from done with the Grishaverse or Kaz’s Crows. You can keep up with her work and learn more about her worlds on the Leigh Bardugo website and, trust me, she’s very worth following on Twitter.
There are manga, and there are sports. If the next thought in your head is “never the twain shall meet,” you might be surprised to learn that there’s actually an entire sub-genre of manga focusing exclusively on sports. Wataru Watanabe’s Yowamushi Pedal, (or “Wimp/Sissy” Pedal) does the most poetic job yet of bringing this delightful literary paradox to life.
To start with, Yowamushi Pedal does not at first seem to be about sports at all. Our protagonist is high school freshman and Otaku (anime fanatic) Onoda Sakamichi, who pours his passion into anime and manga and could never get along with sports or jocks. He sings anime theme songs on his way to school and while shopping for merchandise, he collects capsule toys obsessively and hopes to form an anime club. He doesn’t even realize that his weekly trips to Akihabara by bicycle are actually a grueling feat that have developed his unusual talent for biking.
While he might not have realized, he keeps getting noticed by skilled athletes at his school, whether it’s kind Kanzaki who thinks him a diamond in the rough, cold-tempered Imaizumi who is looking to test his recent training or wild Naruko who ropes him into chasing down a car. Eventually his dream of reviving the anime club seems to have been dashed — but in the process of meeting his new friends he unexpectedly develops an otaku-like passion for bikes and a new type of confidence. Onoda instead joins the biking team and finds himself on a path to discovering teamwork, exhaustion, victory and friendship like he’s never experienced before.
Watanabe’s storytelling and style are head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to new manga. His characters are as diverse in personality as they are in looks, and he weaves exciting tales of growing friendships and loving rivalries that are both thrilling and heart-warming. Although his artwork appears awkward at first, his fresh choices when stylizing his characters are consistent, lively and unique, allowing for a perfect range of emotion and movement as he shows us these high-speed races. If you enjoy Yowamushi Pedal make sure to check out similar titles like The Prince of Tennis, Big Windup, Cross Game and Fantasy Sports.
Having won the 2015 Eisner Award for both “Best New Series” and “Best Publication for Teens,” Lumberjanes, by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis and Brooke Allen, is a series to keep an eye on. The Lumberjanes, a group of five snappy scouts at a camp for “Hardcore Lady Types,” are an endearing bunch whose wacky adventures are sure to elicit smiles.
The power of “Friendship to the Max” gets the girls through a number of sticky situations, ranging from dodging their strict cabin supervisor after hours to battling sea monsters armed only with their scrunchies. Yetis, were-bears and outhouses full of raptors aside, Lumberjanes is a book about friendship and individuality. April, Jo, Mal, Molly and Ripley each have their own quirks and skills that, when combined, make for an unstoppable force of feel-good girl power.
Fans of other offbeat series like Adventure Time or Bee and PuppyCat will feel right at home with Lumberjanes. Allen’s artwork is stylized and modern, the action is exhilarating and the zany sense of humor has something to offer readers of all ages. The film rights have recently been picked up by 20th Century Fox, so read Lumberjanes soon before everyone else is wondering “what the Joan Jett” this series is all about!
At its heart, Sara Farizan's contemporary coming of age novel If You Could Be Mine is a love story about the romantic relationship between two teenage girls from Iran and the complex decisions they face. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, there are no public displays of affection between the sexes, no Facebook, no women in football stadiums. But for best friends Sahar and Nasrin, it never mattered. They had their stolen kisses and untested promises. They had each other. Since they were small, Sahar never doubted she wanted to marry her best friend, Nasrin.
Unfortunately, relationships like Sahar and Nasrin’s must be kept secret in a country where any one gay is an enemy of the state. So, when 18-year-old Nasrin decides to do what society expects and marry a young male doctor because "he makes sense," Sahar can hardly breathe. She searches for a way they can be together openly. She believes she has found it with sexual reassignment surgery, a legal option in Iran. The problem is that Sahar is not even sure she wants to be a man. "She needs to know this isn't a game. It isn't something you just try on," a transgender acquaintance she meets through her cousin explains.
Farizan, an Iranian American who was born in the U.S., exposes in her simple writing style the absence of choices for young women while weaving in historical perspective. She does not condemn Iranian culture. "I respect a woman's decision to cover up as long as it is the woman's decision," Sahar says. It shows the naïveté, impulsiveness and self-deprecating humor that define youths who are still defining themselves. Mature teens and adults alike will find a tender yet compelling read in this fresh debut.