Tag Archives: diverse characters

Review: We Didn’t Ask for This by Adi Alsaid

We Didn't Ask for This by Adi Alsaid

We Didn’t Ask for This
Adi Alsaid
Inkyard Press
Published April 7, 2020

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Goodreads

About We Didn’t Ask for This

Every year, lock-in night changes lives. This year, it might just change the world.

Central International School’s annual lock-in is legendary — and for six students, this year’s lock-in is the answer to their dreams. The chance to finally win the contest. Kiss the guy. Make a friend. Become the star of a story that will be passed down from student to student for years to come.

But then a group of students, led by Marisa Cuevas, stage an eco-protest and chain themselves to the doors, vowing to keep everyone trapped inside until their list of demands is met. While some students rally to the cause, others are devastated as they watch their plans fall apart. And Marisa, once so certain of her goals, must now decide just how far she’ll go to attain them.

My Review

It’s kind of a crazy time to read a book about being locked in, right? I didn’t think about that right away, but being under stay-at-home orders as I read WE DIDN’T ASK FOR THIS was definitely interesting– not the same by any means, but interesting.

The style the book is written in is really different from most of the books I read. It’s got an omniscient view that kind of pans through the crowd a lot of the time and then will zoom into one character for a moment and give details about what they’re thinking or experiencing or show a snippet from their past.

Normally this isn’t a writing style that I prefer, but I think it really worked for this story because it creates this big crowd feel but also personalizes so many of the characters and shows so many different points of view and treats them all as equals.

I found it really easy to like lots of the characters, too. Amira and Marisa were my favorites, but I loved Celeste and Kenji and Peejay, too. It took me a little while to get the feel for the community in which the story takes place– it’s an international school, but I kept basically picturing a very diverse American school, which isn’t the same thing at all! But once I recognized that distinction and changed how I was picturing things, I felt like I got it more. Hopefully that makes sense?

On the whole, I really enjoyed reading WE DIDN’T ASK FOR THIS. It’s the first book by Adi Alsaid that I’ve read, but I’ve wanted to read his books for a while now. I really want to check out the others.

If you liked the big cast with interconnected relationships in THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS by Marieke Nijkamp, I think you’ll also like WE DIDN’T ASK FOR THIS.

You’ll find content notes below, and also a Q&A with author Adi Alsaid. Be sure to check it out!

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 12 up.

WE DIDN’T ASK FOR THIS has a very diverse cast of characters, including LGBTQ+, Latinx, black, and Muslim characters.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used very infrequently. (Only a few instances in the whole book.)

Romance/Sexual Content
Lots of references to attraction or infatuation. One brief mention of a couple who take their clothes off in front of each other. References to kissing and making out.

Spiritual Content
Some references to Muslim faith and traditions.

Violent Content
Students get angry at one point and start throwing things at Marisa, injuring her.

Drug Content
Instances of teens drinking alcohol.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support the costs of running this blog. I received a free copy of WE DIDN’T ASK FOR THIS in exchange for my honest review.

Q&A with Author Adi Alsaid

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

A: I’ve been wanting to write a book that felt like my favorite book, Bel Canto, for a while now. So the very initial inspiration was a group of characters all stuck in the same place for an extended period of time. Then, to make it feel more YA, I thought of The Breakfast Club, but instead of cliques, just bring people with different passions together. Then, because of my increasing awareness over the last few years about environmental issues, combined with the fact that I was traveling and seeing those issues play out around the world, I brought in the fight for climate change.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about Marisa Cuevas?

A: Her willingness to fight for what she believes in.

Q: I love the juxtaposition of a lock-in against a political protest. What was the most challenging part of threading those two very different pieces together?

A: Honestly, it was the logistics of actually keeping the students locked in. The political protest wouldn’t work without it, nor would the plot. So I had to find a whole lot of justifications that felt reasonable within the story. Other than that, one of my goals was to show, embodied in different characters, all the ways people react to political protests, and to make them feel like actual people, not just symbols.

Q: What do you most hope that readers take away from the story?

A: Getting others to care about what you care about is hard, but you’re allowed to try, and it’s possible to succeed.

Q: Is there a character that you found challenging to write? Why?

A: All my characters come easily to me. The challenge is working to get them right in revisions. Jordi Marcos, a sort of villain in the story, was one that was hard to get right, in order to make his actions feel justified. I also have a queer Muslim character in Amira, and I had to work—and had the fortune of being guided by a great sensitivity reader—to not make her representation be harmful.

Q: How does a typical writing day look like for you?

A: Assuming this means not in the time of COVID-19. I wake up and go straight to a coffee shop, where I work/avoid looking at my phone for about 3 hours or so. Then I usually have lunch, take a break by watching a movie, running errands, or something in that vein. Then another work session in the afternoon or late evening at another coffee shop or perhaps a bar, followed by cooking dinner. During deadline times there’s also usually a late night session at home.

Q: What are your current reading?

A: I’m about to finish The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy, listening to The Art of Logic in an Illogical World by Eugenia Chang, and my next read will probably be Incendiary by Zoraida Cordova.

Q: Is there something secret you can share with us about anything in the book or your experience writing it?

A: I don’t know about secret, but I’ll say that I had the unique experience of traveling the world while writing it. So, many of its words were written in the communal areas of hostels, on airplanes, trains, on an island in Fiji, and in many, many coffee shops.

Review: The Music of What Happens by Bill Konigsberg

The Music of What Happens
Bill Konigsberg
Arthur A. Levine Books
Published February 26, 2019

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Goodreads

About The Music of What Happens

Max: Chill. Sports. Video games. Gay and not a big deal, not to him, not to his mom, not to his buddies. And a secret: An encounter with an older kid that makes it hard to breathe, one that he doesn’t want to think about, ever.

Jordan: The opposite of chill. Poetry. His “wives” and the Chandler Mall. Never been kissed and searching for Mr. Right, who probably won’t like him anyway. And a secret: A spiraling out of control mother, and the knowledge that he’s the only one who can keep the family from falling apart.

Throw in a rickety, 1980s-era food truck called Coq Au Vinny. Add in prickly pears, cloud eggs, and a murky idea of what’s considered locally sourced and organic. Place it all in Mesa, Arizona, in June, where the temp regularly hits 114. And top it off with a touch of undeniable chemistry between utter opposites.

Over the course of one summer, two boys will have to face their biggest fears and decide what they’re willing to risk — to get the thing they want the most.

My Review

I think I’m totally a sucker for a book with great voices in it. You know those books where you can tell whose point-of-view you’re reading because each character talks and thinks in a way that’s uniquely them? THE MUSIC OF WHAT HAPPENS totally has that, and I love it. I bought in to Max and Jordan’s stories and their very different lives with single moms and with their very different friend circles. Honestly, I couldn’t get enough.

I loved that THE MUSIC OF WHAT HAPPENS made use of stereotypes to help us understand some minor characters but also used the character cast to challenge stereotypes and assumptions. A few times I found myself re-examining a conversation or situation and thinking of things from a new perspective because of a point Max or Jordan made, and I love that, too. Love that the story makes me think in unexpected ways.

One thing I didn’t like so much was the amount of profanity. I get that people really talk that way, and maybe using the words makes it feel more authentic, but sometimes it felt like overkill to me. Like, we get who these guys are, we don’t need quite so many reminders everywhere. But that’s a personal preference for me.

On the whole, I really enjoyed THE MUSIC OF WHAT HAPPENS. I think I have at least one other book by Konigsberg, so I’m eager to check that one out soon.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 16up.

Both main characters are gay. Max’s mom is Mexican. A couple side characters are also Latinx.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used pretty frequently. Some crude language used as well.

Romance/Sexual Content – Trigger Warning
A couple references to arousal. Some hints or statements that characters have had sex, but no descriptions of the event itself. Some descriptions of kissing and cuddling.

One character shares memories of being raped. The sexual part isn’t described in detail, but the way the character feels comes across very strongly. Sensitive readers or readers recovering from trauma may find those scenes difficult to read.

Spiritual Content
Jordan briefly talks about his mom going through a phase in which she was very interested in Christianity.

Violent Content
One boy punches another in the face and misaligns his jaw.

Drug Content
Max drinks a few beers to loosen up at a party. Another boy offers him pot, but Max declines, though he’s in the room when the other boy smokes it.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support the costs of running this blog. I received a free copy of THE MUSIC OF WHAT HAPPENS in exchange for my honest review.

Review: The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

The Belles
Dhonielle Clayton
Published on February 6th, 2018

Amazon | Barnes & Noble Goodreads

About The Belles

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

Gabrielle’s Review

I had heard so much hype about this book, that I decided I had to read it and see for myself. I would describe this book as a cupcake. Fairly bland fluff, with too-sweet, artificial-tasting frosting. I wanted this book to be as amazing as I’d heard, but unfortunately, it just didn’t live up to its hype.

The characters felt like puppets, and there was many interactions that felt forced. A lot of the conversations went like this:
“Hello, how are you?”
“I’m doing great. Just got some beauty work done.”
“Oh. Looks nice.”
“Why don’t you love it?!?”
“Because I don’t!!”
“I hate you!!”
“Me too!!”

And I’d be left wondering what in the world just happened. (Yes, this is highly exaggerated, but a lot of the dialogue felt just like this.) I really didn’t understand or connect to any of the characters because of the odd dialogue and how quickly things escalated. It just felt fake.

The plot wasn’t much better—things happened because they were supposed to, not because it was inevitable. I think part of what caused this was that the book seemed so agenda-driven. The story should come first, not the theme. It was very heavy-handed.

The one redeeming quality about this book was the world-building. It was gorgeous, and lush, and everything a magical setting should be. I loved learning about how it worked, and the society as a whole. The teacup animals were definitely my favorite part. I’m really hoping that the sequel(s) will give us a bigger picture of the what’s going on in their world.

Overall, I’m just relieved to be done with this one so I can move on to something more interesting. 2 stars out of 5.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 16 and up

Cultural Elements
Wide variety of skin tones and body shapes in this book, and nearly all are portrayed as being beautiful (overweight villain characters the main exception). The main character is described as having brown skin. Includes the normalization of homosexual and transgender characters as follows: a handful of mentions of homosexual relationships, a headline mentioning a transgender character, one courtier is in love with her lady’s maid, the queen has a mistress, and another character is hinted at being transgender. 

Profanity/Crude Language Content
None that I can recall.

Romance/Sexual Content
One attempted rape. Characters kiss (with and without tongue), semi-described, including homosexual characters. Characters are unclothed for beauty work. Breast sizes and shapes are discussed.

Spiritual Content
The goddess of beauty is frequently mentioned and referred to. The Belles’ power is attributed to her. There is also a god of the sky mentioned.

Violent Content
Characters are poisoned, and symptoms are described in detail. One graphic death. Disturbing descriptions of cruelty. Injuries and attacks. The Belles use leeches to reset their talents.

Drug Content
Graphic poisonings. Bei powder is sprinkled on characters undergoing beauty work. They also drink a Belle-rose tea, an anesthetic.

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

Review: The Hunted by Matt de la Pena

The Hunted
Matt de la Peña
Delacorte Press

When Shy and his friends reach the California shoreline, they find widespread devastation and panic. What seemed at first like an easy mission – transport precious vaccines to Arizona to stop the spread of a disease destroying humanity – suddenly becomes near impossible. With the border closed and vigilantes hunting down anyone on the road, the trip seems like a hopeless cause. But with more and more people dying, Shy can’t give up. He must find a way to deliver the medicine and the evidence damning its creator.

The rise of the ugly disease and the conspiracy behind its spread will likely remind readers of James Dashner’s Maze Runner series. The Hunted packs a high dose of suspense and a fast-paced plot that keeps the pages turning. At one point the story takes a bit of a sci-fi turn. Something really unreal happens, but Shy kind of scratches his head and moves on. Nothing further develops from that moment, and readers are left hanging.

At times Shy seems a little young for seventeen, especially in his relationship with Carmen, who often reads as much older. Their relationship progresses through the course of the story, but isn’t a strong central focus. Shy wants to track down his family members and first finds his dad, with whom he carries a lot of emotional baggage. The rebuilding of that relationship borders on being too easy or perfect, but like Shy and Carmen, it’s not in the spotlight very much. Readers looking for a suspenseful, post-apocalyptic tale will find no shortage of action in this high-energy story.

Language Content
Extreme profanity used often. More than one character pretty much uses profanity to refer to any general noun. Often.

Sexual Content
Shy makes a quick comment about how he hooked up with Carmen (in the first book.) Things heat up between them. They swim in underwear and have sex (not a lot of description there.) All this while Carmen is engaged to a man who may or may not still be alive.

Spiritual Content
There are some digs at religion/faith, at Christianity/Jesus in particular as being a useless pursuit. A priest helps Shy and his friends, but there’s no mention of what state the man’s faith remains in.

There are some pretty gross moments, mostly descriptions of bodies long dead. Some seemed unrealistic – if there’s an outbreak of contagious disease, why aren’t corpses burned? Instead they’re kind of just left sitting there getting nastier and nastier.

Vigilantes with guns shoot anyone who could be sick or who gets in their way.

Drug Content
Shy and his friends carry vaccines that they hope can be replicated to stop the spread of the disease.

The story contains an idea that a large medical company has basically scammed the public by creating a devastating illness and then withholding the vaccine, hoping to use it to get rich.