Review: Pasadena by Sherri L. Smith

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Maggie was the glamorous, larger-than-life, shining star all her friends revolved around. Maggie was Jude’s best friend, the only one she told her secrets.

Now Maggie’s dead. Her body was found floating face-down in her family’s pool. Drowning? Overdose? Suicide? No one knows.

No one except for Jude. Jude knows it was murder. And as she investigates Maggie’s friends and family, the facade Jude had built around Maggie while she was alive starts to crack open. And, unwillingly so, does Jude’s armor as she comes head-to-head with her past.

Pasadena is a noir YA novel clocking in at a breezy 228 pages. I’d read Sherri L. Smith’s apocalyptic/dystopia novel Orleans and was a huge fan, but hadn’t read anything of hers since, and so I was curious to see what kind of noir story she would write.

228 pages and a week and a half later, I have little to say about it. It’s engaging overall, and the writing style and atmosphere is suitably noir-y. The scorching-hot, tinder-pile of a city that is Pasadena and the outskirts of L.A. is evocatively rendered, and the over-bright sunniness of the setting is effectively utilized in direct opposition of the hidden, shadowy secrets scattered throughout the book.

I really liked the portrayal of Jude and Maggie’s friendship through Veronica Mars-esque flashbacks. (And if you like Veronica Mars, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy Pasadena). I especially liked the mystery that was Maggie Kim, a rich, confident, melodramatic glamorous girl, the glue that kept her friends together, the balm that soothed and assured them they mattered and their troubles had answers.

The dealbreaker is the climax—it negates the entire purpose of the story being a noir. (Highlight for spoilers.) Dead people don’t commit suicide in noir—other people kill them. Even though Maggie’s death was aided and abetted by an outside figure, it’s still suicide. All this tension had been built up about what kind of person Maggie was, what secrets of her own she was hiding, the closer Jude gets to solving the mystery of Maggie’s death, and what ended up being the big reveal deflated that tension, big-time. The more I think about it, the more frustrated I am.

My disappointment with the ending has colored my overall feelings towards Pasadena. Other readers may appreciate the book as a contemporary YA exploring friendship, loss, and sexual assault with zero gloss. I picked up Pasadena for the promise of a noir story, and IMO it did not live up to its advertising.

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Review: Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard

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I am Pen and Pen is me.

We’re not identical. Yet this is the first time I have read a book with a character whose relationship with their gender and their body  felt relatable for the reason of  OMG I HAVE HAD THOSE SAME EXPERIENCES. Not all of them, but many. The details are different, the essence is the same.

Pen Oleivera is a masculine, butch teenage girl who for all her life has been getting shit from her parents and her peers for being the “wrong” kind of girl, the kind who wears men’s clothes, hangs out with dudes, loves FPS video games, and is an overall un-feminine person. Pen’s never had a problem with herself, with being female, or being into other girls. What Pen does have a problem with are people’s expectations and assumptions. Her traditional, Portuguese-immigrant parents expect respeito from her in the form of acting like an appropriately feminine daughter. Her douchebag-of-a-best friend Colby expects loyalty for his “bros before hos” mentality in return for treating Pen as “just another guy.” All three of them accuse her of trying to be something she’s not, trying to be a man, because why else would she look and act the way she does?

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Review: Everfair by Nisi Shawl

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I can’t remember the last time I read a steampunk novel, but I always knew I would be reading Nisi Shawl’s Everfair as soon as it came out. A what-if take on the outcome of the colonization of Africa and the enslavement and brutalization enacted upon the people of the Congo, Everfair uses steampunk not as a shiny gloss, but as an integral mechanism powering her alternate history in which the existence of the Belgian Congo takes a markedly different turn for the better.

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Review: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

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In some far future in what used to be the midwest of the United States, monsters walk the streets of V-City at night. If a human commits violence, a monster comes to life as a result of the crime. The Corsai are violent maulers, and the Malchai are emaciated vampires. The mysterious Sunnai, that most rare of monsters, eat souls. Not only are they the most destructive, no one knows what they look like, and that makes them the most dangerous monsters of all.

Kate Harker is a human who wants to be a monster. The daughter of the crime boss who rules half of V-City, she’s gotten herself kicked out of six boarding schools so she can return to be with her father. She’ll prove one way or another that she’s a Harker, her father’s daughter, and worthy of his time and attention.

August Flynn is a monster who wants to be human. He lives on the other half of V-City, the side where humans decided to fight the monsters rather than pay exorbitant fees for Callum Harker’s protection. August and his two siblings look human but are all Sunnai, and they live with the man who runs the task force dedicated to monster hunting and crime prevention. August is tired of being who he is and the things he’s capable of doing when he doesn’t eat for too long.

Kate and August are two sides of a coin, and they are both able to see the city for what it is, and each other as the people they truly are. As the power structure in V-City teeters and threatens to make collateral damage of Kate and August, the two of them are on the run for their lives to save the city, themselves, and each other.

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