This is one hell of a series starter.
Sierra discovers a family heritage she didn't know she had, and along with a motley crew of friends and relatives, explores a new world of magic and spirits.
Oh how simple that plot can be boiled down to, but this is a really good book, and the plot itself is intricate and beautifully done. Every single time I thought "Oh noes, I see what's coming..." something else did. Even when the protagonist was merrily agreeing with me on what was probably going on, nope, we were both wrong. Furthermore ,it's well written, the characters are well rounded, self-consistent and diverse.
If you'd like to read some contemporary Urban Fantasy, I highly recommend this. It's a YA book, but only as much as say, Fool's Assassin is. Or the Paksenarrion books. Or Star Wars for that matter. Any regular YA fantasy reader will be right at home, but as someone who generally doesn't read YA other than things I am reading with my daughter, I can still recommend this.
Sierra's voice, and those of her crew of minions, comes across as utterly authentic. The way second and third generation immigrant kids wander between languages, often in the same sentence. There's a lot of sharp observation of the dynamics of immigrant families in general, easily observed when you are one, under the surface when you're not. The way the first generation clings in so many ways to the old country, while the second rejects it, trying to be as assimilated as possible (and yet, betrayed by their culture in a million ways), and by the third gen, how there's often an uneasy middle ground. Sierra runs up against both the wall of her Puerto Rican grandfather's antiquated ideas of gender politics, and her mother's wholesale rejection of "the old ways" right alongside her aunt's blatant racism, and that's just in her own family.
Also the interaction between the group of teenagers. These are smart, witty, sassy kids, of course they are, it's a YA fantasy novel, but they each have a distinct voice and point of view, without falling into having everyone talk like the writers of the Gilmore Girls or Dawson's Creek wrote their dialogue. They're sloppy, they screw up, they're constantly-but jokingly-insulting each other, only to pull together like a fortified wall when an outsider threatens one of them. And they respect each others opinions, and don't always agree, something you rarely see in a book but I see all the time with my own kids and their friends.
And there's a wee romance, but there is no instalove or declaration of undying devotion. It's an unsure exploration of a possibility by a girl and a boy who aren't in the slightest bit sure what they're doing with each other yet, or what is coming next, and I thought it was pretty charming.
I could write quite an essay about all this, but I'll just point out this is well written and I liked it. That might seem obvious, but I didn't only like it because the main characters are all kinds of shades of brown. The fact it's unusually representative of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign is a bonus - tokenism and poorly written representation is, to be honest, worse than none at all.
Google "Urban Music" and you get... hip hop. The music of the minority, inner city youth. Google "Urban Fiction" and you get... street lit. "Focussed on the dark side of city living", hip hop in fiction form. Google "Urban Fashion" what do you get? Hip hop fashion. Oddly the music and fashion (I don't know so much about the fiction) share an amazingly similar aesthetic in inner-city Stockholm and inner-city New York. The slinky folksy rhythms of Timbuktu from Sweden and the down-tempo electronic trip-hop of Tricky from the UK don't sound much like the Wu-Tang clan at all, but they're all recognisably part of a continuum (ok, my hip-hop references are out of date, deal with it :) Globalisation at work? Sure, it's partly that, but it's also simply that something in the very spirit of these art forms seems to speak to the same kind of kids, no matter which big city you're in. Urban is it's own aesthetic, in almost any art form around.
Why then, is "Urban fantasy" a bunch of primarily middle class white dudes (ok, and some chicks) wielding primarily European based magic and interacting with European archetypes of fantasy. The fae. Vampires. Werewolves. Oh sure there's exceptions, but there's a definite template. Older purposefully set out to represent *his* urban experience, which is quite a different one, and he's done a fantastic job. There's not many books I hand on to my (Kiwi-Swedish immigrant child) daughter these days and practically force her to read, she's 16 and definitely has her own tastes, but this was one. And she promptly handed it off to her (Venezuelan) boyfriend, so that'll be an interesting report when I hear back, but books I recommend to her that she actually loves and recommends on are an even rarer thing!
And do go click that Timbuktu link above, it's like nothing you ever heard before, I'm pretty sure :) (The title means "Everyone wants to go to heaven, but few want to die")
Okay, so Im coming dangerously close to neglecting the fact I haven't written this post in like 2-3 months, which is funny, because I read the book in less than a week. I knew if I sat down and wrote the review, I'd have so much to say, and I tend to be very wordy in reviews to begin with.
The Boy in The Black Suit follows the exploits of a 17 year old teenage boy who's mother recently lost her battle with cancer(correct me if Im not remembering correctly folks, I read it in January). With time, he ends up taking a job working in a funeral home, hence becoming "The Boy in The Black Suit."
I normally wait until I've actually started describing my pros and cons before I make a declaration this bold, but I think this book will be the best book I've read all year. Diversity in books is interpreted differently by nearly everyone I know, so when it comes to needing diverse books, what fits for one person, might not fit for the next.
When people say we need diverse books, Im almost positive they're talking about a book like this. The Boy in the Black Suit's leading character Matthew Miller(Matt for short) was a character I really rooted for. I hate the word "relatable" because it suggests "relatable" has to be something specific, or a one-size-fits-all answer. But I related to him more than most characters I've read since I dedicated myself to reading diverse titles.
I know the author's been around longer than I've been reading his work, but he reminds me a bit of author Zetta Elliot. I liked his use of language, mainly because the way I speak is very much like Matthew and his best friend. In fact, I'd always laugh to myself when reading, because the way they spoke to one another reminded of my sister and myself, and we're not even from New York.
One of the strongest parts about the book was Matthew himself. He was a male character, who actually seemed like a real person. A lot of depictions of boys and men tend to read as a fantasy to me, which I get. Readers like to have a fantasy of what is a perfect guy to them, but it just seems overdone a lot of the times.
He was written in a way our media would never depict a black boy, full of vulnerability, rejecting gender roles, and someone not afraid to cry. The kid could throw down in the kitchen, a trait he learned from his late mother.
I know in Black/Latino homes of the past, boys and men were forced to be what society saw as being men. But this creates so many future issues for men not allowed to express their vulnerability or enjoy things society hasnt deemed "conventionally " masculine.
Let's not forget to mention he's African-American. I wasn't sure if I'd get a character who just reminded me of a default character who just happened to be Black, or a main character who reads too hard to remind me that he's Black, but I got neither. I got Matt. A character that you'd automatically know is a black teen, but in a positive light, that doesn't shy away from being born and raised in Brooklyn, NY.
I live in an oh-so small state called Connecticut, that happens to border NY, but I went to college in Brooklyn, and Im sure the writer is from NY. I mean, anyone can "do" NY, but not everyone can "do" Brooklyn. Reading this book, I was in Brooklyn, and not only that, I loved all the other settings(all the places that brought familiarity, like the Cluck Bucket, lol).
Matthew wasn't a scatterbrain like a few teenage protagonists I read. He had intelligent thoughts, and a big love for Tupac, so I know I would've been friends with a kid like this growing up. I think the only real complaint I had was with a detail in the past, feeling the need to tie it's loose end in the present. But I looked past it for all the other amazing details it had!
Matthew reminded me a bit of my 21 year old cousin. My cousin is religious, so he loves wearing fancy suits all the time. I loved how Matt wore a suit for his job at first as a requirement, but with time, he couldn't imagine himself without one. Not to say all kids should be wearing suits all of a sudden, but it was just interesting how the title wrung it's way in more ways than one throughout the entire book.
It's hard to comment on editing on traditionally published books, especially one like this, because it seems as though editors put a lot of time into making this effort perfect. It's easier to comment when there are mistakes =)
Diversity-wise, Im assuming nearly every character except one, was Black. Could be American, of Caribbean descent, or even of African, but most of the characters were Black. Only one character wasn't Black, and he was a bodega owner from Pakistan. He was cool, I wish I would've seen more of him, or other cultures, but I liked how it didn't feel the need to insert-white-character-here, just to make it "relatable"(there's that word again).
Matt also had a girl he was feeling named "Lovey." They had awesome chemistry, and it's really nice to read a book that focuses on the strength of Black Love, because as a Black women, and an Afro-Latina, everything tries to steer me away from Black Love. No one really says it, but it's true, and I do tend to read more books depicting interracial relationships than the latter.
Also liked how it incorporated texting, in a texting generation. And the way Lovey and Matt flirted is very reminiscent of how it was in neighborhoods I grew up in. If I could, I'd buy this book for everyone I know, because it's just that amazing.
The cover is intriguing, and the title is very catchy. It makes you wonder who is "The Boy in The Black Suit" and what does that mean to him. Character names? I'll say they're uncommonly common. They suit the characters, even though I meet a lot of people with names like theirs, outside of Lovey of course!
Sometimes I wish I would've gotten a better description of the characters who made the most appearances in the book though. Matt mentioned being the color of dark wood, but not much else. I couldn't tell if he was tall or short, and only the characters who walked on with little or no dialogue, were described in the most detail.
But overall, it was an amazing read. Im really looking forward to reading some of Jason Reynold's other books =)
Trigger/Content Warnings are meant to announce the presence of content that might illicit a strong or potentially harmful emotional response. They are used for things like rape, incest, blood, and animal death. Demanding that authors warn readers about characters' sexual orientations, certain kinds of sexuality, or non-binary genders, etc in the same way we treat traumatizing things like rape implies they are equally damaging, when they are ABSOLUTELY NOT!
Trigger/Content Warnings were not meant to be used as a laundry list of content that readers' dislikes and demand authors warn them away from. Not liking to read about oral sex, or not being interested in reading about lesbians is not remotely the same as wanting to avoid being trigger by graphic violence or pedophilia. It's insulting to ever put these things on the same level.
An author writing in a genre you don't like has no obligation to inform you away from their work if it doesn't contain anything harmful.
If you suffer from the misconception that everyone is cis, heterosexual and monogamous unless they explicitly state otherwise that's YOUR problem. You have no right to demand other people accommodate your ignorance.
I just finished two fantastic books featuring bisexuality and polyamory, while also having a central f/m couple as the focus of the love story. The books are Alisha Rai’s A Gentleman in the Street and Kit Rocha’s Beyond Shame. They are fantastic and I highly recommend them both.
While I’ve been browsing through what other readers have said about these book I found a review for one that was essentially a huge trigger warning for “cheating.” I understand why this person felt compelled to post this review, but it doesn’t lessen the sting of someone mischaracterization your sexuality as an act of betrayal.
So let’s just address this right here and right now. Just as heterosexuality isn’t the default for everyone in the world, neither should it be in stories about love and sex. Likewise monogamy is not the default for everyone in the world. Nor should it be presumed to be the ideal in stories about love and sex.
Consensual sex between multiple adults is not cheating, whether or not everyone is participating in the touching or sexual intercourse. It’s just sex. And in the case of these two books it is polyamory.
“Polyamory is the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.” [source]
Beyond the wikipedia definition, polyamory isn’t just a relationships status. It’s an aspect of many people’s sexuality, whether or not they are actively in a polyamorous relationships in real life. Human sexuality is far more diverse than the simple boy meets girl narrative that dominates romance and erotica.
“What about properly labeling/shelving books? Isn’t this like marking BDSM, f/f, m/m, etc?” Shouldn’t people who could see it as cheating be warned?”
Just because monogamous people have the privilege of being portrayed as the norm in most romance and erotic doesn’t mean they should be catered to in ALL books, especially in books that aren’t about them.
This is a big problem we all need to discuss in every genre of literature. Just because the literary landscape has been dominated by a small group of people (heterosexual, white men) does NOT mean that every book written must take their perspective into account. That’s not diversity, that’s the exact opposite.
While labeling poly, bisexuality, homosexuality, people of color, etc as a subgenres in Romance/Erotica is a practice often totted as a helpful distinction, a way to to spotlight diverse stories. That can be true. However the execution of that labeling is deeply problematic.
Namely that there are no cis, vanilla, heterosexual or monogamous subgenre labels in any genre of literature.
More often than not these subgenre distinctions are meant to slot diverse stories as “other.” To call them out as different, and not “the norm.” Which implies that cis, vanilla, heterosexual, monogamy is the default or ideal way to love and have sex. This is bullshit, and a subtle form of erasure.
Erotica and Romance are not genres restricted to just stories about cis, vanilla, heterosexual people in monogamous relationships. Bisexual people, trans people, gay people, polyamorous couples, interracial/multicultural relationships are all part of these genres. We deserve to stand shoulder to shoulder with you in real life, and our stories deserve to be shelved right along side yours in book stores and libraries, not pushed off into shadowy corners like dirty secrets.
My sexuality is NOT your kink. While you might enjoy the idea of bisexuality and polyamory as a fun, sexy fantasy that does not give you a right to define my sexuality as wrong just because it makes you uncomfortable. Even more important do not contribute to damaging bigotry in order to accommodate other people's ignorance. Doing so values their ignorance over my dignity.
You wouldn’t put trigger warnings a m/m romance because two men kiss, because you understand that there is nothing wrong with the act of two men kissing. So too there is nothing wrong with consenting adults having sex whether their a couple or a group. Consent is the important distinction, even if the sexual intercourse is happening between a husband and another man. If his partner is aware and consents it’s not cheating.
Whether you agree with it or not, it is not your place to define or judge someone else's sexuality.
Polyamory isn’t ugly or wrong, it is simply different than monogamy. It is no less beautiful or resonant for MANY people, whether or not they are polyamorous themselves. Love and sex takes all kinds of amazing shapes.
Don’t you dare put yourself in a place of judgement upon other people's sexuality. Even if it’s strange to you. Stay in your fucking lane and out my sexuality.