Tag Archives: asexual

Review: Arden Grey by Ray Stoeve

Arden Grey by Ray Stoeve

Arden Grey
Ray Stoeve
Amulet Books
Published April 26, 2022

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Arden Grey

Sixteen-year-old Arden Grey is struggling. Her mother has left their family, her father and her younger brother won’t talk about it, and a classmate, Tanner, keeps harassing her about her sexuality—which isn’t even public. (She knows she likes girls romantically, but she thinks she might be asexual.) At least she’s got her love of film photography and her best and only friend, Jamie, to help her cope.

Then Jamie, who is trans, starts dating Caroline, and suddenly he isn’t so reliable. Arden’s insecurity about their friendship grows. She starts to wonder if she’s jealous or if Jamie’s relationship with Caroline is somehow unhealthy—and it makes her reconsider how much of her relationship with her absent mom wasn’t okay, too.

My Review

This was kind of a last-minute pick for me, but ARDEN GREY seemed like a book that I didn’t want to miss. I’ve read a few other books with photographer narrators– TELL ME EVERYTHING by Sarah Enni and BREATHING UNDERWATER by Sarah Allen are the two I remember off the top of my head– and I’ve enjoyed all of them. And complex family relationships are another pretty sure-fire win for me in a book.

I guess all that to say that I had pretty high expectations when I went into Arden Grey, and the author absolutely delivered on them. Arden’s shyness and small social circle, her struggle to connect with others, definitely resonated with me. I felt like she was on a clear emotional journey, and I wanted to be there for every minute of it.

As she finds new friends and the confidence to share her photography with others, she’s also grieving a lot of changes in her family and personal life. Her relationship with Jamie really struck me. Knowing someone you love is in a bad situation, but won’t leave it is truly heartbreaking, and the pages of ARDEN GREY really capture both the grief over the loss of friendship, the fears and worries that something is deeply wrong, and the helplessness that comes from being a bystander that’s shut out for trying to speak the truth.

Arden also faces huge changes in her family. Her parents have separated, and her brother isn’t doing well. She can’t figure out how to reconnect with him or her dad. Then Arden’s brother opens up to her, breaking open a family secret and asking Arden to accept it. Arden reels. She struggles. She grieves even more. But she also learns. Listens. Tries new things. Tries to find ways to heal. She’s a hero. I love her.

Most of the abusive relationships or situations happen off-scene or are briefly recounted in memory. I think this helps keep the story from centering on an abuser. It also means we must trust Arden, her brother, and Jamie for their descriptions of what happened and how it made them feel. This resonated with me, too, because that’s very often the position friends or family members are in, where we’re trying to understand what happened and what it means.

On the whole, yeah, I loved this book for its deep, wrenching emotional journey through difficult relationships and facing abuse. The author shares some great resources in a note at the back of the book, which I will post here, too.

Power and Control Wheel

I’d never heard of this, but when Arden’s brother brings it up as something he learned about in health class, I searched online to see if it was a real thing– and it is! I wish I’d known about this a lot sooner than now, but I will definitely be sharing it with others. Basically, it’s a graphic that describes different behaviors and how they fit into a cycle of abuse.

National Domestic Violence Hotline

What is a Healthy Relationship? – from the Domestic Violence Hotline website

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 12 up.

Arden is asexual and a lesbian. Jamie is a trans boy. Vanessa, a minor character, is Latina. Marc, another minor character, is also asexual and Black.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used somewhat frequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between a boy and girl. Reference to sex between Jamie and his girlfriend. Arden holds hands with someone.

Spiritual Content

Violent Content – Content warning for abuse and mentions of self-harm.
Arden hears her mother slap her brother.

Arden begins to recognize signs of abuse in her relationship with her (now absent) mom and in Jamie’s relationship with his girlfriend. Most of the abusive behavior happens off-scene and is either summarized or reported on later. One person uses self-harm and threats of self-harm to try to control another’s behavior.

Drug Content
Arden’s younger brother comes home late and drunk several times. Arden drinks a beer with her friends at a party.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Review: This Golden Flame by Emily Victoria

This Golden Flame
Emily Victoria
Inkyard Press
Published February 2, 2021

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

About This Golden Flame

Orphaned and forced to serve her country’s ruling group of scribes, Karis wants nothing more than to find her brother, long ago shipped away. But family bonds don’t matter to the Scriptorium, whose sole focus is unlocking the magic of an ancient automaton army.

In her search for her brother, Karis does the seemingly impossible—she awakens a hidden automaton. Intelligent, with a conscience of his own, Alix has no idea why he was made. Or why his father—their nation’s greatest traitor—once tried to destroy the automatons.

Suddenly, the Scriptorium isn’t just trying to control Karis; it’s hunting her. Together with Alix, Karis must find her brother…and the secret that’s held her country in its power for centuries.

My Review

I think this book was pretty good. I struggled with a few things, but it’s hard to tell if they’re personal issues or problems with the story. I’ll explain, but I want to talk about the good stuff first.

So first, I enjoyed the setting. Something about it felt vaguely Roman (oops– it’s based on Ancient Greece, so not Roman!) to me. I loved the pirate crew and especially Zara, with her no-nonsense, never-give-up sensibilities. I liked the friendship between Karis and Alix, and the way she identified with him and his past as well as her love for her brother.

All that said, I struggled a bit with Alix’s character. In the story, there are giant machines called automatons that have been lying dormant for a long time, and the people holding Karis captive have been studying them, trying to figure out how to get them working again. In general, it seems like they have kind of an interactive book that can be used to control them. Write a command, and the automaton will execute that command. So they’re kind of like robots operated with magic??

Except then, enter Alix, who is similar to an automaton, but not?? Because he has a personality and LOTS of emotions and the ability to think for himself and choose his own actions. He still has a book that can be used to control him, though.

I guess, I felt like I didn’t really get what he was supposed to be. I kept expecting him to be more like a high level android, with internal calculations and limits and maybe emotions layered on top of that? But it seemed like, no, he was really supposed to be exactly like a person, but also an automaton.

It felt confusing to me. I don’t know if my expectations got in the way of the story or if more explanation would have been helpful? I’m not really sure. But it definitely became an obstacle to me enjoying the story.

Other than that, I enjoyed the story, though, and I thought it was great to see a book focus on a friendship relationship rather than a romance and to center an aromantic asexual character. I thought that was very nicely done.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 12 up.

The main character identifies as aromantic asexual. One minor character is nonbinary. Another is gay. Other minor characters represent different races and cultures.

Profanity/Crude Language Content

Romance/Sexual Content
Brief kissing between boy and girl. One boy identifies another boy as his lover.

Spiritual Content
Some characters have the ability to read or write magic runes that have an effect on objects and automatons around them.

Violent Content
Some reference to human slavery. A couple brief battle scenes.

Drug Content
The captain purchases a round of drinks for the crew at a tavern. (What they drink isn’t specified.)

Note: I received a free copy of THIS GOLDEN FLAME in exchange for my honest review. This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support running this blog.

Review: Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

Before I Let Go
Marieke Nijkamp
Sourcebooks Fire
Published on January 2, 2018

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

About Before I Let Go
Best friends Corey and Kyra were inseparable in their snow-covered town of Lost Creek, Alaska. When Corey moves away, she makes Kyra promise to stay strong during the long, dark winter, and wait for her return.

Just days before Corey is to return home to visit, Kyra dies. Corey is devastated―and confused. The entire Lost community speaks in hushed tones about the town’s lost daughter, saying her death was meant to be. And they push Corey away like she’s a stranger.

Corey knows something is wrong. With every hour, her suspicion grows. Lost is keeping secrets―chilling secrets. But piecing together the truth about what happened to her best friend may prove as difficult as lighting the sky in an Alaskan winter…

My Review
I feel like Nijkamp’s true strength in storytelling comes from her way of taking a single situation or moment and crafting a story that shows a 360 degree view of the relationships around that situation. In her debut novel, she did this with a school shooting and the view into all the relationships surrounding the shooter. In Before I Let Go, we circle the unexpected death of a young girl in a small, close-knit community which never accepted her. Events unravel in a way both suspenseful and almost magical.

Because of the elements of magical realism, I often had no idea where the story would go. It felt like anything was possible. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Kyra showed up somehow. The way the town which Corey called home until seven months earlier becomes more and more sinister and strange kept me eagerly turning pages. Sometimes a simple, seemingly harmless thing twisted into something sinister and cult-ish. I liked Corey’s character and the way the story juxtaposed her interest in stars with Kyra’s passion for stories.

Before I Let Go is a great pick for readers who liked Bone Gap by Laura Ruby or The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma.

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Cultural Elements
Corey is asexual and her best friend Kyra pansexual. Corey learns that two of the boys in town are gay and a couple. Kyra is bipolar.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used with moderate frequency.

Romance/Sexual Content
Two girls share a kiss. Corey sees two boys sleeping in the same bed.

Spiritual Content
Corey finds paintings which seem to predict the future. Others seem to have embraced the idea of the paintings being prophetic and have an almost ritualistic response to them. Some possibly magical things happen. Flowers appear in various places without any explanation, and a garden grows plants out of season.

Violent Content
A sudden fire nearly kills a girl. A man attacks a teen boy and a girl in the woods.

Drug Content

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.