Book Review: Home Fire

Home Fire (2017)
Kamila Shamsie

Home Fire is riveting. Devastating. An ode to the devotion and terrible decisions made in the names of love and justice. Isma, Aneeka, and Parvaiz Pasha are three British siblings born and raised in the Islamic faith; when all of their relatives pass away, Isma is 12 years old when she’s left with the heavy burden of rearing the younger twins. As the story unfolds, a schism is formed within the family when Parvaiz leaves home to join a radical jihadi group. One sister is resentful, willing to let her brother lie in the bed he made in order to protect the sibling she has left. The other would do anything and everything to bring Parvaiz home safely. Each chapter of the book is written from the point of view of a different character, which I believe gives valuable insights into the backgrounds and reasons behind each person’s perspectives. The last few paragraphs were the culmination that I was dreading, where all the sorrow of the story ends with a final blow to the heart. With heavy themes of the current political climate, family ties, and an underlying love story weaving through the pages, Shamsie creates a powerful portrait of the extremes humans will go to for those they care for most.

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Review by Dori Brillard.

Magical Alice Hoffman

The Rules of Magic (2017)
by Alice Hoffman

Finally, a book about love and magic that is as real and true as it is inventive. In The Rules of Magic, Alice Hoffman has created a beautiful portrayal of family devotion and connection, a novel that captures the exhilaration and trepidation of true love. In this prequel to Practical Magic, the Owens family carries a curse within their bloodline, one that is tied back to their ancestor from 300 years ago: anyone whom they fall in love with is bound to die an untimely death. The three siblings — Franny, the stoic and serious eldest, Jet, who is deeply trusting and idealistic, and Vincent, the rebellious troublemaker — spend a fateful summer in Massachusetts with their mystical aunt, learning about the magic that flows through their veins and the truth of their heritage. The story follows their lives from childhood and illustrates the power and inevitability of love– how a person can build walls around their heart or try to outrun their feelings, but that one way or another, love will find you whether you want it to or not. I took my time with this book, picking it up and putting it down, wanting to draw out the story and really take it in. And I was not disappointed; the last page left me feeling a hopeful heartache. Punctuated by tidbits of herbal wisdom and written with the artfully woven words that Hoffman is known for, I will most assuredly be reading through again someday.

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Review by Dori Brillard.

Marvel Comics Fan? Read This!

Invincible Iron Man: Ironheart. Vol. 2: Choices (2018)
Brian Michael Bendis

Riri Williams’ Ironheart joins Carol Danvers’ Captain Marvel and the new Thor in the continued re-imagining of superheroes in the Marvel universe, resulting in an increasingly female-superhero-heavy lineup. It’s interesting to compare her character and arcs to other women superheroes in the current pantheon.

Like Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel), Riri Williams is a teenager of color. Having an African American superhero allows the authors to explore racial tensions in our society, through their influence on the attitudes and interactions of the superhero community. Having Riri Williams at odds with S.H.I.E.L.D., a superhero police force, for example, echoes the conflicts between police and African Americans that led to the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Ironheart series also gently criticizes the prevailing Marvel trend to include female designation as part of superhero names (like She Hulk or Ms. Marvel). There is a running joke throughout the first two volumes where other characters keep calling Riri “Iron Woman” or other similarly gendered names. But she’s unapologetically feminist in her choice, Ironheart. She even rebukes the villainous “Lady Octopus” that she fights in issue #8; when asked who she is, she replies: “Someone with enough self-worth to not have to qualify myself with ‘Lady’. Seriously? Lady Octopus?”

But leaving aside questions of race or gender, the Ironheart series also offers a compelling bildungsroman, with teen questions of identity and self-discovery writ large and dramatic. Finding her support system is often literally a question of life or death. Negotiating the social ins-and-outs of superhero fame leaves her alienated from most teens her age, and questioning where she belongs. Riri even contends with choosing an educational path (though in her case it’s not standard college applications, but deciding between M.I.T. and Iron Man’s private industrial lab). It’s a pleasure watching Riri grow; and Stefano Caselli’s fantastic art makes watching Riri’s facial expressions during the process a pleasure to view, as well.

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Review by Deborah Tomaras.

Book Review: A Ride Worth Remembering

A Long Way Down (2017)
Jason Reynolds

But if the blood
inside you is on the inside
of someone else,

you never want to
see it on the outside
of them.

Will’s older brother Shawn was shot and killed the day before yesterday. Now 15-year-old Will is following “the rules” of the neighborhood: do not cry, do not snitch, but get revenge. With Shawn’s gun stashed in his waistband, Will is riding an elevator on his way to hunt down the guy. The elevator takes only 66 seconds to travel down, but it turns out that Will is not riding alone….

Almost the entirety of Jason Reynold’s newest young adult novel takes place in those 66 seconds. Reynolds has jested that his novel-in-verse is a cross between A Christmas Carol and Boyz N the Hood. While it’s an apt description, Long Way Down is also a brilliantly-crafted piece of storytelling. The language is economical, but it does not spare the reader some very difficult questions. In my humble opinion, the novel deserves every accolade that has come its way since publication in October. More importantly, Long Way Down, like all of Reynolds’ recent novels, deserves a wide and growing readership.

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Review by Laurel Cox, Reference and Young Adult Librarian.

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