First things first, I am sure you all have noticed that I put the word review in quotes. There’s a reason for that. I feel that this book in particular deserves more than just a review. Let me explain.
Over the past few years, I have made many friends through this blog. Okay, so most of those connections were greatly facilitated by twitter. Whatevs. I would not be so over-active on twitter without this blog…so there. I digress.
So what do I mean by “more than a review”? I mean that the author, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt is a friend. She also happens to be a fantastic writer/storyteller, and I have read her blog for…two or three years now. I can’t put my finger on exactly when I started reading her blog because I can’t remember when I *wasn’t* reading her blog.
While you might be tempted to just write off what I’m about to say about her book as just another form of fandom, hear me out. I don’t really read a lot of YA (or “Young Adult Fiction” to the uninitiated). Sure, the genre has produced some fantastic books for many years, way before the character of Harry Potter was a twinkle in J.K. Rowling’s eye. I suppose all I can say is that I had simply lost interest. Kind of like not really hearing from a friend you had years ago. There was no “breakup”. Just a growing apart.
When Sarah told me that she was working on a book, I was happy for her…and I was eager to read it. When I found out that it was going to be a YA novel, I was optimistic that I would like it. After all, YA novels are like an old middle school friend to me. And so, here we are. Sarah self-published her book (read her post on that, it’s kind of fantastic) in July. She graciously sent me a digital copy so I could read it. Not only did I find it to be a great read, but Sarah managed to do something different with what could have easily been a teen-trying-to-fit-in story we have all heard before. Given that sci-fi and fantasy stories are so popular these days, I appreciated the interesting spin Sarah gave to her book.
Her heroine, Helen, is exceedingly relatable. For me, I particularly enjoyed the fact that I have a shared cultural background with Helen (Latina). Sure, you may not initially notice a lack of Latina characters in fantasy stories, but trust me, it’s fairly uncommon.
Helen is bookish, awkward, and has few friends in school. She does, however, love books, and in particular, a fantasy series that she read as a kid. Here’s where Sarah’s twist comes in – she seamlessly blends Helen’s “real world” of typical awkward pre-teen experiences with the more confident, equal footing found in the fantasy story. It’s a dynamic I hadn’t seen before, and if you think about it, it’s a clever move. I mean, what if you could interact with people in your school in an entirely different way – in an entirely different world – and shocker….make friends with people you thought you couldn’t make friends with? By having friendships made on a more equal footing carry over into the “real world”, it allows Helen to find her own self-confidence and fit in at school in a way she thought previously impossible.
The best part? Sarah completely avoids the typical “ugly duckling” transformation found in so many stories. I loved that she respected her heroine enough to allow her qualities to stand on their own. You know, like you might find in your own growing-up experiences. It’s REAL.
I promise that I have not revealed anything “spoilerish” here. The fantasy story is well-written and imaginative, and I’d rather leave that for everyone to discover on their own. Needless to say, I found myself wishing the book wouldn’t end. Oh, and I read it in one long session…overnight. Yeah. I read all night. That is something I hadn’t done in many years. I just couldn’t put it down, and I was engaged in the story enough to not notice that I hadn’t slept.
Anyway, I hope you all go give this book a chance because not only is Sarah an awesome person, but her book is even more awesome than she is. Trust me, that’s a pretty impressive feat. Take a gander at the links below – bonus: her book is free on Amazon today and tomorrow!