Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun
by Jonny Garza Villa
Release Date: June 8, 2021
Why I love this book: I'm not going to lie- I'm having a hard time reviewing this one. Not because it's bad in any way, in fact, quite the opposite. It is an amazing book. So good in fact that when I was about 60 pages to the end I froze... I didn't want this book to be over, I wasn't ready to let the characters go... and I had many concerns that Jules and Mat were not going to get the ending I wanted for them.
No Joke Friends- SPOILERS BELOW. Come back when you've read the book (and you 100% need to read this book) if you are against being spoiled at all.
I'm not a reader who always needs a happy ever after, in fact I much prefer for an author to give the reader and the characters the ending they need, and not just the happy ending that they want. Here though, I needed the happy ending, and I think Jules and Mat did too. I'm so happy they got it. I'm sure their lievs won't be perfect, but I was left with the impression that they would be stepping into their next chapter with a lot of love and support, and that's as close to a Happy Ever After as you can get.
I've clearly jumped ahead to the end. While the ending is everything I wanted, the rest of the book is pretty rock solid as well. Jules' journey is manages to be both very narrow to his specific experience, while also being relatable to a much wider audience. Jules' drunken online coming out forces him to really confront who he is in a extrememly sped-up timeline. While we might not all have that experience, I think many of us can relate to making a decision in haste (ahem... or while absolutley obliterated) and having to deal with the fallout, both good and bad. In this case Jules' worst fears and greatest hopes are all realized. He is supported by his closest friends and his sister, and while they are not all immediately understanding and sometimes struggle to know how to support Jules, they are all willing to stand by him and work through it. He is bullied and rejected by the people that he expected that from, including his father, who as the story progresses we get more and more insight into how abusive he really is to Jules.
Then there is Mat, 1500 miles away and shooting his shot over twitter. I will admit that I for sure come at online relationships with an extreme bias. Nothing about Mat and Jules connecting on twitter and making a go of it bothered me. Over a decade ago I was a moderator on TwilightMOMs and made some of the best friends I've ever had, we knew eachother almost entirely online, but did fly out to meet each other for vacations, not really knowing who everyone was, but trusting that we had made good choices and that these were good people. Since then I've made friends through fandom facebook groups, on twitter and more recently through TikTok that I would consider real, true friends, even though we have never met face to face. So where others, including some characters, may have been put off by the ease at which Jules and Mat fell into each other online, I saw a completely realistic situation that I loved to watch play out.
To be perfectly honest, I loved everything about how the relationship between Jules and Mat played out- especially because it wasn't presented as this easy, idealistic thing. Jonny Garza Villa showed all the hard and messy parts too. They made clear that making it work at a distance is hard, that communication is hard, and that there is anxiety around meeting because what if what you are building online just doesn't translate to real life. They also reminded us that there is risk for sure, but that the rewards are worth it.
In the end I loved to see Jules step into his own, and to know that even though he experienced loads of trauma at the hands of his father, that he was worthy of love and support just as he is. That he can be out and not be afraid of what is waiting for him at home. That there is happiness out there for him if he just goes for it. And that reminds readers that the bad things will knock you down and leave scars, but that everyone deserves to find love and support and to be happy.
The Witch King by H.E. Edgmon
Release Date: June 1, 2021
Why I love this book: So- this is a hard one for me to answer. There is so much to love about this book. Probably too much to sufficiently cover in a review without going overboard. So I think I'll just laundry list it...
- World Building: I've been off reading fantasy for a fair bit of time. I'm been heavy into contemporary books and nothing has really grabbed my attention lately- but this one really caught my eye and I'm so glad it did. I fell headfirst into the world created here and found myself not just wanting to believe in it, but fully acknowledging that this world could very well exist in tandem with ours.
- Messy, chaotic characters: I've said before and I will inevitably say it again. I want my characters to be as realistic as possible, and that means I want characters who are messy and who make horribly ill-advised choices. Especially if these characters are Middle School/High School age- they are notoriously selfish and make awful decisions. By and large, they mean well, but they fuck up a lot. Too often we don't get to see that, but I love it, and this book has it in spades. Every character has a purpose to serve, but they are all also complicated and act in ways that are both frustrating and believable. The characters are all wonderful, even the so called bad guys somehow drag you in.
- Wyatt and Emyr: These main characters are everything. Wyatt is trans and finds himself in the position of having to return to a place where he suffered an immense ammount of trauma. He has to work with Emyr, who is on the verge of becoming King and is just trying to find his place in the world. You get the sense from the jump that their relationship is complicated and imperfect, but they also do deeply care about each other, they just don't know how to do relationships or fill the roles that are laid out in front of them. They each have the weight of the world (literally) on their shoulders, and that is given space, but they are also both teenage boys pumped full of emotions and feelings and sometimes they just want to get handsy and make out, and that's given space too. It's a really nice balance. You want them to figure their shit out, and when the book ended I was actively frustrated that there is more story to tell about these two and that we don't have it yet. (I'm ready for it!)
- Trauma: This book also deals with the abuse and trauma that Wyatt in particular has faced. As a witch he is an outcast, unwanted even by his family. As a trans man he is also on the outside of gender and social norms in his community. Both things make him a target of hate. He sufferes physical abuse at the hands of those who should have protected him. He has scars, both physical and mental, that will stick with him forever. Throughout the book these things are given the time to be looked at and Edgmon does an amazing things here, where Wyatt's experience is easily translated to our world. Where the way witches are treated is paralleled to how we treat marginalized groups, especially here in the US. Through Wyatt's experiences we see ourselves, through the way he is treated, we see how we treat others. It's a mirror held up for us to examine. Some of us are Wyatt, we have trauma and scars, but we keep moving forward, even when we stumble and make bad decisions. Some of us are on the other side of it, our privledge allowing us the ability to ignore the mistreatment of others, the story here showing us the damage that leaves in our wake. This isn't a book about those big issues in the sense that it isn't yelling about it top volume... it is a book about those big issues in that it shines a light on Wyatt's life and asks you to look at your own. It's incredibly powerful.
- I cried, a bunch: I'm not a big crier, but every once in awhile a book will hit me in the gut. This book knocked me back a few times. That's how I know it's good, when it comes out of nowhere and suddenly I'm tearing up. I mean, I cried when I read the acknowlegment, so I knew right away I was in trouble.
This section in particular got me...
While I saw myself in Wyatt in certain parts of the book, this is when I really wished I had an Emyr. Like most people I've made some monumentally bad choices, I've hurt people that I shouldn't have, burned bridges that I wish I hadn't. I've acted out of pain and there are somethings you just can't take back or undo. I do often wonder how people view me, one of biggest anxieties is that people only like me for what I can do for them as opposed to just liking me. So for me, this paragraph hit home. It's a reminder of what I need to hear, but also what I should make sure others hear too.
- Found family: I love a good found family story. I love the idea that no matter how bad your family is that there are other people out there just waiting to be found who will have your back no matter what. The found family in this story is great, again, not because it's perfect, but because it's so realistically done. That Wyatt could step away and find a home, even with all his baggage, speaks to the fact there is hope, that you aren't stuck with what you were given, that there are poeple out there who will hold you together when you can't do it for yourself. It's not perfect, but it's good, and I loved reading about all of them.
Anyways... this got long, despite my attempt to keep it short and sweet. This is a great book. I really was actively annoyed when it ended because I wasn't ready to set these characters aside yet. I'm already primed for what might happen next. In the meantime I'll just be hyping The Witch King up in as many places as I can!
Between Perfect and Real by Ray Stoeve
Release Date: April 27, 2021
Why I love this book: Reason number 1 is that this book is full of wonderful, complex, real people, and doesn't shy away from showing all sides of what High School can be like... the good and the bad. Centering on Dean and his journey of self-identifying and coming out this story really gives Dean space to think about and learn about what he wants, and in turn it allows the reader insight into what that process can be like. I think that there is a tendency to view someone's path as cut and dry, for instance, they just know they are a boy ebnd of story, and then the journey becomes about how to come out. Sometimes, maybe most of the time, the reality is that it takes years of little moments that piece together to make the whole picture. That's hard to capture in a book sometimes, but Stoeve does a great job weaving together the threads of who Dean is. Here we find Dean at the moment he has to meet it head on- he is cast as a Romeo in the school play, even though he has not publically come out as trans, even though people still know him as a girl. Getting the role brings it all to a head and Dean has to decide what he really wants and how he wants to do it.
I also fully appreciate that we see the full spectrum of relationships- we get to see friends who immediately accept Dean, we see others who want to accepting and understanding, but who don't have the capacity to do so, and we see the hateful people as well. We see people who want to do right by Dean, but don't. We see people who want to do right by Dean, but don't. Through it all we see Dean becoming the person he wants to be, and making choices about what that will look like. It's a wonderfully written story, and, like many of the books I've read lately, are ones that I wish we had when I was a kid. The fact that I can now hand my students books that reflect a wide range of experiences is one of the best parts of being a librarian.
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