Review: Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

Anna: If you’re looking for an emotional coming-of-age story I highly recommend Betty. Set in Appalachian Ohio, Betty and her five siblings live with their mother and Cherokee father in a dilapidated house surrounded by racism, poverty, and family secrets. This is also fiercely feminist novel, which I love. 

Betty is about sisterly love, nature, and cycles of trauma and abuse in families. When she is eleven, Betty discovers a deadly family secret that shapes the course of her life. Despite the difficult themes, this book is beautifully and lyrically written. Betty’s dad, Landon, and his storytelling the love of nature he encourages in his children are a driving force of the novel. Her mom, on the other hand, is violent and unpredictable, a product of years of being the victim of violence herself.

This is also an own-voices story, as Tiffany McDaniel is the descendants of Cherokee ancestors, and the characters in Betty are fictional accounts of real family members

Major trigger warning for sexual violence 

VERDICT: 4.5 stars

Review: Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

Anna: Three Women is hands-down the most original book I’ve read all year. Inspired by the stories of three real women, Lisa Taddeo explores how women are blamed and othered for showing any kind of sexuality that goes against the norm.

My favorite story to read was Maggie’s, who had an inappropriate relationship with her teacher when she was in high school. Looking back on it years later she realizes that she was taken advantage of, but when she presses charges no one wants to see the truth.

This is a slow but explosive book that shows how women are systematically shamed and repressed. It’s not exactly hopeful, but it’s important, and something I’m going to be thinking about for a long time.

VERDICT: 4 books

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Review: We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

Alexis:

We Hunt the Flame is a set in an Arabic-inspired fantasy world. It follows two main characters: Zafira, also known as the Hunter, who hunts to feed her village; and Nasir, the Prince of Arawiya, who is a trained assassin. This book is very The Hunger Games meets Katara and Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender.

What I liked: I loved the world that Faizal created. I liked how she described the clothing, and especially how she described the food.

This book also has a strong undercurrent of feminism which I liked; Zafira’s homeland, Demenhur, is sexist, and would punish Zafira if they knew she was actually a woman huntress. Throughout the book, she has to battle sexism in order to prove herself.

As I mentioned, the book follows both Zafira and Nasir. I enjoyed reading from both of their perspectives, and I appreciated that the book was in third person.

My favorite part was the last quarter of the book and the ending. Faizal had some really awesome plot twists that I didn’t see coming. I feel like the plot really came together at the end of the book, and I have high hopes that the next book in the series will take a step up.

What I disliked: While I loved the setting, this book could have used a glossary. In the beginning, I struggled to understand some of the terms that Faizal used, since I don’t have a background in Arabic. I figured them out through context clues, but a glossary would have been useful.

My least favorite part of the book was actually a character. This character plays a role in the beginning of the book and dies a little later on, and it felt completely out of place for me. The grieving over the character’s death didn’t last nearly long enough, and the character’s role in the story confused me. I felt like it could’ve been cut out completely and the book would have been better for it.

In addition, the story dragged on in the beginning and the middle of the book. Plot wise, it was a little lost. It didn’t really pick up until the end.

There were also some minor things with Faizal’s writing that I took issue with. Some of her phrasing felt off to me. The dialogue in the beginning felt a little stiff and too explanatory. Faizal also writes sentences like, “‘You scared me,’ Zafira exclaimed in a whisper” (112). She also has a tendency to use a poetry-like spacing in order to emphasize a phrase, and while I liked this the first two times, it ended up drawing me out of the story the more she used it.

Sometimes I would have to go back and re-read a section because I thought the characters were doing one thing, only for them to be doing something else. I think Faizal focused a little too much on describing everything. The book almost could’ve started 100 pages in.

And my last note: Nasir was just a little too Zuko, backstory, scar, and all. This book was supposed to explore his character arc by the end, but we already had too many hints of his underlying feelings for it to really pack a punch.

Overall, I wasn’t a huge fan of the beginning of the book, but I really enjoyed the ending!

VERDICT: 3 stars

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