The Year of the Horse by Justin Allen
Ah, The Year of the Horse. A fascinating concept that failed to deliver for me. This was mainly because I couldn’t connect to any of the main characters and in turn couldn’t care less about their adventures. I wanted to like Lu because, hey, Asian-American protagonist in a Western, yay! But he was the passive narrator type, and I don’t care for those. Couple that with his incessant hero-worship of Jack (whom I was thoroughly sick of by the time Chapter two came along, and spent half the time during the reading discussions I had with ninefly and Ari complaining about Jack, and wanting him to get off the stage) and our protagonist elicited feelings of complete apathy on my part. I didn’t care about the characters, I didn’t care about their adventures, I didn’t care about the plot direction, I found the writing uninspiring and I suspect that I wouldn’t have stuck to this book so long if it weren’t for the fact that I was reading this along with others, and that their reactions to the story were far more interesting and enjoyable than the reading experience itself. (For instance, we had a bit of a running joke over Lu’s horrible nicknaming abilities, and I personally think that if ever Lu and Sadie hook up, he should leave all the children’s naming decisions to the lady.) I did, however, fall madly in love with this total minor character called Bill. Mostly because he keeps dangerous animals as pets (He calls his mountain lion Sweetheart! And his snake Hank! Squee~) and names a gun after his wife, lawl. And got all emotionally invested yet another minor character Goklayeh, and his non-existent’s backstory (I’m convined that he and the unnamed scarred girl had a torrid tragic love story and it was all very epic and things of melodrama and tearjerkers.). I think my biggest personal problem that hindered my reading enjoyment was that I kept on wishing that the story was about anyone else but the main characters. I suppose next time if ever I crave a Western setting storyline featuring Asian protagonists, I’ll just watch some East Asian films with a 'Western-esque' troupe. In fact, my Asian entertainment-viewing friends have been badgering me to get on with watching South Korean film The Good, The Bad, The Weird for the longest time, perhaps I’ll get around to finally watching it.
Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim
I really enjoyed this YA novel. It had a lot of heart. Nina was a perfectly lovable protagonist, and I love seeing her navigate through her life experiences, from family setting to school life to love life. This book was all about character growth, not just in the protagonist, but with other characters that surround and make up Nina’s life. In other words, my favourite aspect of the novel was the characterization. Everyone was so wonderfully fleshed out, and the interactions were all very genuine. I liked how her interactions were varied too, and not totally dominated by only one type of interaction (I'm thinking romantic interactions, a phenomenon that’s pretty prevalent in YA books, unfortunately.), and that she has pretty significant, sustained interactions with her family members and friends along with her crush. The voice was charmingly funny and witty in the understated way rather than the outrageous laugh-until-there’s-no-air-in-your-lungs way, and I think this tone suits the narrative of this novel very well. Highly recommended, and I keep hoping that this novel will either be optioned for a movie or a tv series. For this type of slice-of-life genre, I like seeing the story unfold in a motion picture medium, and I think it’d make a great show with lots of hilarity and heart, y/y? I’d vote for Zarqa Nawaz (creator of Little Mosque on the Prairie sitcom) to adapt this novel. 8D
North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley
Justina Chen Headley has, after reading and falling in love with her first two books, become an instant must-read author for me. So of course when North of Beautiful came out, I had to hunt it down as fast as possible. Writing an objective review on this novel though, was rather difficult for me. Because while I enjoyed and loved the book, a part of me realized upon finishing it that I mostly liked it for the familiar Headley style in this novel. I enjoyed it because I liked Headley’s writing and the Girl Overboard cameo moment, and not so much the story itself. Because, truth be told, when I had time to step away from the afterglow of being all giddy over Headley’s words, I realized that I enjoyed the actual storyline far less in comparison to her previous works. I’m a bit ambivalent about the message of beauty in this novel. It’s a good message, to be sure - I just wasn’t too fond of the way that orphanage scene unfolded when Terra meets her so called Chinese girl counterpart, and how beauty and race intersected there... I found the family drama rather weak in the first half as well. (The mother-daughter develops improved tenfold when we hit the second half though, to be fair.) The pacing was off and the story doesn’t really take flight until the second half when they go to Mainland China. I was actually surprised that this was my favourite part, as I really despise the whole white-tourist-in-exotic-locale type stories. But it was more or less done right, and most importantly, the romance between Jacob and Terra blossoms. I think I’ll be forever fond of this novel as Headley’s first truly romantic story, aka with the romantic storyline dominating. (As much as I liked her first two novels of young girls empowering themselves and finding their place in the world, I was totally ready for a Headley style romance, and this novel delivered.) Also because I am extremely fond of Jacob. He’s so boyfriend material. I wish that we got to know more about him actually because his role in the novel was predominantly that of a love interest, and we only see glimpses of other facets to his persona.