I started Shokoofeh Azar’s The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree today, which is the 57th book and 52nd individual author on the list. Still in the plans for this year are two books each by R.F. Kuang and S.L. Huang as well as one more YA book by Tiffany D. Jackson, so depending on how much reading I’m able to get done by the end of the year I might be up to 62 books. But the initial promised 52 are done, and so is the expansion to 52 authors. Should I just post ’em all? Sure, why not:
Y’all. This book. This book.
I don’t even know where to start. I mean, the cover, obviously, because holy shit that cover, but after that?
This is Book 53 and Author 48 of the #52booksbywomenofcolor project I’m doing this year, and I know I’ve said this before, but this book, all by itself, justifies the existence of that project. Even if I hadn’t liked most of the 52 books I read prior to this one, this would have made it all worth it. Because if I hadn’t been prioritizing books by women of color this year, this one might not have made it onto my radar quite as effectively as I did, and I might have passed on it, and that would be a crime. This is the book that convinced me that my top 10 list at the end of the year is probably going to have to be a top 15 again, because this is about the tenth “Okay, this is gonna be top five at the end of the year” book and about the fifth “this is gonna be top three” that I’ve read so far this year.
(Writing the list in December will kill me.)
Another thing that I’ve done this year that’s different is I’m pretty sure I’ve been reading a lot more YA than I have in previous years. And this is very much a YA book, complete with many of the tropes of urban fantasy, right up to and including Hidden Demons and the need to Keep Special Powers Secret From Friends and Family.
And for a little while you’re rolling along with that, and you know where this is going, and yeah, I’ve read this book before, and that lasts, oh, I dunno, maybe 25 pages until Deonn starts subverting every single trope you’ve ever encountered in one of these damn books. This is an #ownvoices book in its bones, y’all, because there is simply no way anybody white could have written this book, from the little details about the way the main character gets ready for her classes in the morning to the conversations between her and her dad to the big twist at the end that knocked me flat on my ass and I really want to know if a Black reader would have been more likely to see coming.
It’s about a magical secret society involving the descendants of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table– there’s a lot of Welsh, be ready for that– right up until the part where it isn’t, and holy hell I just cannot recommend this highly enough. The characters are interesting, the representation is great, the magic system is intriguing and the way different entire systems are butting up against each other throughout the book is just putting a worldbuilding aficionado like myself into spasms because I love how Deonn is doing this so very, very much.
Like, I should talk about the plot, I suppose; here’s part of the synopsis:
After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.
A flying demon feeding on human energies.
A secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down.Goodreads
The problem is that that’s really a very pedestrian description of what sounds like a bog-standard book, and it doesn’t get across at all just how much gleeful fun Tracy Deonn is having stomping on your expectations throughout the book. I mean, yeah, demons, Merlin, smoky-eyed magical boys, blah blah blah blah.
This book isn’t great because of what it’s about. It’s great because of how it’s about what it’s about.
Go read it.
Technically, this could be my final update if I wanted to– my goal for the year was to read 52 books by women of color, and while I’m not finished with A Song Below Water, it’s been chosen as the 52nd book and it won’t take to the end of the month to finish it. But there’s still two months in 2020 (God help us all), and five authors– S.L. Huang, N.K. Jemisin, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and Rin Chupeco– were represented twice. There’s also a new book by S.L. Huang on my unread shelf right now. So I figure the new goal is 57 books by 52 women. And after that I might go ahead and get started on 2021’s goal of reading books from as many different countries as I can.
I reviewed a bunch of these, but if there’s anything you’re curious about, feel free to ask. Also, here’s the rest of the list:
I ordered Claire G. Coleman’s Terra Nullius damn near at random, when I realized that I’d spent all year reading books by women of color and hadn’t managed to find one from Australia yet. A quick Google search for Aboriginal authors and fifteen bucks later and this was on its way. And this book is another great example of why I do stuff like this– if I wasn’t specifically looking for a book by someone like Claire Coleman, I don’t know how this would have crossed my radar otherwise, and I’m damn glad I read it.
You may have noticed that this post isn’t called a “review,” which is usually the way I title– hashtagged, even– most of my posts about books I’ve read. I’m doing that for a reason: I went into this book about as blind as I possibly could have, and as a result certain events in the text absolutely floored me; this is one of those books where you think you’re reading one thing and then pow bang what suddenly you’re reading something completely different and you have to reevaluate everything you’ve read in light of your new knowledge. And therefore my approach to telling people about this book is as follows: most of y’all have been around for a minute, and whether you agree with me or not, if you’re a book person and you follow my blog you probably have a pretty damn good idea how well my taste aligns with yours by now.
Well … trust me on this one. I’m not telling you a damn thing other than that you will enjoy the time you spend with this book. If my word on books has been useful to you in the past, listen to me on this one. I’m not quite in “if you buy this on my say-so and don’t like the book, I’ll send you your money back” territory, but I’m closer than you might think.
I got curious the other day about how much geographical diversity my “52 books by women of color” project was representing. If I play a little fast and loose with immigrants (I have arbitrarily decided second-generation American immigrants count, especially if the author’s books reflect the culture of her home country*) the countries represented by authors I’ve either already read or have ordered books from are represented above. I was a little surprised to discover I hit four countries in Africa before Australia joined the list, and the lack of representation in Europe outside of the UK is at least a little surprising, but there it is. Since it’s still September and I’ll finish book 45 on the list today or tomorrow, I’m probably going to expand it to 52 different authors rather than 52 books, and I’m going to see how many different countries I can hit with the rest of those authors.
Next year’s project, I think, is going to see how many books I can read from authors from different countries– no target number, necessarily, but trying to fill in that map as much as I can. It’ll be interesting to see how much I can fill the map in.
That said, if anybody wants to call out some authors who I might be interested in to round out this current project, please feel free– in particular, female-identifying authors of color from mainland Europe, China, Brazil, Afghanistan or the Middle East would be great.
(*) This sort of boiled down to how they chose to identify themselves in biographies, and I’m not digging very hard. Nghi Vo, for example, was born in Peoria and doesn’t say anything about her family or ancestry in any of her bios that I looked at, so she’s American, despite her books having a very strong Southeast Asian flavor to them. If her bio had referred to her as, say, “Chinese-American” (and I have no idea where her people are from, to be clear) I’d have counted her for China. Or, for another example, Ilhan Omar was born in Somalia, so that counts even though she lives in America now.