With a tighter editorial hand, this book could have been captivating.

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THE DEMON GIRL'S SONG

According to ancient demon lore, the ghost of a recently deceased emperor takes his successor as a host in order to ensure continuity of power, but somehow Emperor Askar Molasca’s ghost finds his new home in the body of 17-year-old Andín dal Rovi, a feisty Antrimanian girl.

Andín is brooding because her father will not allow her to go to university when the demon possession takes place. The possession is not complete, and Andín begins to communicate with the demon/emperor speaking to her inside her head—and sometimes taking over her mouth, often with comical effect. He is just as confused as she is as to why he’s not in the body of his successor. Readers will join them in their confusion as the story progresses and Andín begins to take on any number of incarnations in the many dreams that haunt her. Seen as a threat, Andín is exiled from her home country of Antriman, and in search of an exorcism, she travels to distant lands to resolve her possession issues. Bigelow introduces intriguing feminist themes, but they get lost as she tries to infuse too much into this slow, drawn-out journey, layering it with planetary black holes, demon lore, and political turmoil as well as gender identity and sexual orientation. The worldbuilding includes geographically based racial differentiation; relatively light-skinned Andín encounters beautiful, dark-skinned, kinky-haired Yshe, who joins her.

With a tighter editorial hand, this book could have been captivating. (map) (Fantasy. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-940924-14-4

Page Count: 349

Publisher: Dreaming Robot

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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Interesting and well written but problematic in its conceptualization of a generic Africa and Africans.

THE HAWKWEED LEGACY

Witch queen Poppy Hawkweed returns in this sequel to The Hawkweed Prophecy (2016).

After the events of the last book, Poppy attempts to escape her new life as a witch queen by transforming into a swallow and migrating to Africa, though to what part of the vast continent is unclear. There, white Poppy’s taken in by a medicine maker, Mma, and her dark-skinned great-grandson, Teko. Though Mma and Teko are initially portrayed as likable characters, they eventually imprison Poppy, ostensibly for her own good, as they’ve seen a vision that she will be killed if she returns to England. Back in England, the third-person narrative perspective shifts among characters and times. There’s Poppy’s birth mother, Charlock, both in the present and when she was younger, as well as Leo, Ember, and Betony, Leo’s mother. Through the many lenses and back stories readers learn of Leo’s conception and what became of Betony, who left the witches to have her son. Teko eventually allows Poppy to escape, and once back in England, she’s bullied into taking up her queendom. But there are many twists and turns and painful betrayals to be hashed out before there’s a chance of happily ever after. Though themes of sisterhood are strong, most female relationships are interrupted, if not broken, by male intrusion. The real unbreakable bond in these stories is that between mother and child.

Interesting and well written but problematic in its conceptualization of a generic Africa and Africans. (Fantasy. 14-adult)

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-60286-314-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Weinstein Books

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

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A well-meaning, awkward cautionary tale.

THE CHOLO TREE

Boxed in by societal prejudices, a young Chicano struggles to find his identity.

Split into two separate periods, Chacón’s insightful novel portrays the trials of Victor Reyes, a death metal–loving, artistic teen who’s seemingly ill-fated in life. In the book’s first half, 14-year-old Victor recovers from a shooting—he was dead for a hair over 2 minutes—that leaves him with a fuzzy memory. Almost everyone, including his mom, believes he’s a cholo, a gangbanger destined for trouble. Though Victor tries his best to mend his relationship with his mom, he frequently ends up in incriminating situations. Meanwhile, Victor meets and falls for a feisty part-Mexican, part-Indian girl. The story moves at a meandering pace, which Chacón uses to sketch in disjointed details. Victor’s first-person narration doesn’t stand out in any particular way, but each of the diverse supporting characters features a distinct, if stereotypical, voice to fill in that void. The novel’s second half focuses on 17-year-old Victor, a senior succeeding in school and love. A supportive teacher helps him refine his artistic goals, pushing him to apply for art school. But Victor’s anger and past won’t let him go, and soon he’s knee-deep in the cholo life. Overall, the author employs a well-worn redemption arc, and the often clunky, self-conscious narration doesn’t really help to make it feel fresh: “They looked sort of geeky cool, like journalism students, the kind of kids that YA novels are written about.”

A well-meaning, awkward cautionary tale. (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: May 31, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-55885-840-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Piñata Books/Arté Público

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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