By Gabrielle McLaren
Stuff we like: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (2016)
Effia is a village girl in Ghana who grows up to marry a British slaver. Unbeknownst to her, her half-sister Esi is sold from the very castle in which Effia is raising her family and sent to Alabama. This historical novel provides quick, but deeply personal, twenty-page glimpses into the lives of Effia and Esi’s lineages alternatively. Everything from the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade to the Harlem Renaissance and the fight for Ghana’s independence is covered in this ambitious, fast-paced, and truly addictive debut novel.
Stuff we don’t like: The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye (2016)
This young adult novel rests on the premise of the Crown Game in which two enchanters compete with each other, in what is essentially the Triwizard Tournament, to become the Russian Tsar’s advisor. Of course, they end up falling in love along the way — quickly, and for no good reason — despite knowing that at the end of the Game, the loser must die. Predictability aside, the novel has a lot of problems. Here’s a short list: unrealistic and boring dialogue, cookie-cutter characters, plot holes big enough to drive trucks through, loose threads tied up quickly and sloppily . . . if a young adult series based on Russian folklore is your cup of tea, I would rather recommend Leigh Bardugo’s excellent Grisha Trilogy, whose enticing and palpably real world and characters are also featured in a spunky duology about criminal and magical prodigies.
Stuff we like: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera (2017)
This is a romance that will mess you up. Long story short, Griffin and Theo were best friends, who then became boyfriends, who then broke up because Theo left for college, where he started dating Jackson . . . and then died, leaving Griffin, Jackson, family, and friends to mourn for him. Like I said, this romance will mess you up. Silvera jumps across Griffin and Theo’s long timeline, showing you all kinds of firsts and all kinds of goodbyes, a thousand reasons to hate Theo and a thousand reasons to miss him. Silvera also gets bonus points for writing queer romances that aren’t only about being queer.
Stuff we don’t like: The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobb (2016)
If you’ve been (trying) to rap about American history thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical, this book might be on your radar. It follows the childhoods, courtship, and marriage of founding father and economic genius Alexander Hamilton and his wife Elizabeth Schuyler. The book was clearly written by a devoted historian and the story is brilliant and interesting (because that’s the legacy of Alexander Hamilton). The execution, however, needed a bit of tender love and care. Enormous blocks of time were skipped between chapters which meant playing catch-up a lot, and the novel told more than it showed. Ultimately, characters and events were reduced to what they are in any old textbook: dead historical figures and checklists of events. Plus, Elizabeth Hamilton falls into the terribly annoying cliché of the “Period Woman Who Has Merit Because She Is Not Like Other Women.” Helpless and unsatisfied, I just went back to listening to my show tunes and reading the biography which inspired Miranda in the first place.