If beauty is in the eye of the reader, what is your definition of an excellent heroine?
Is it someone with otherworldly charm that makes her an instant standout among the crowd? Or is it someone with superior intelligence and a natural talent for sass? Would it be someone who is as mysterious and profound as a wallflower? Or would she be fierce and fearless as a fighter? Is it someone with extraordinary kindness of heart or someone with an admirable sense of resilience against hardships? Is she noble and self-sacrificing for the sake of the ones she love or is she bravely pursuing independence because she appreciates her self-worth and her entitlement to freedom?
It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for years. Hence, I vowed to dedicate at least a month to celebrate the many types of young women in fiction—a hurrah for the heroines, because why not? And so I decided April would be the perfect time for this mission: when summer is at its zenith and the promise of hot heroines can set the whole world on fire.
Seven books later and this is the most important thing I learned: there is no such thing as a perfect heroine. Sometimes they are capable of being stuck-up, annoying, intimidating, conceited, distant, insecure, and unlikeable. But these flaws are important because it makes them real; it makes them representatives of our hurts, our dreams, and our passions. The best heroines are the ones that make us understand that no matter how ugly the world could be, there are still infinite ways of being beautiful, if only we search deeper than what meets the eye.
►Book Ratings (in order of reading sequence)
Never Fade (Alexandra Bracken) ★★★☆☆
The month began with a sequel: the second book in Alexandra Bracken’s Darkest Minds Trilogy, Never Fade. I’ve read the first book in March, in line with the Misfits recurring theme I had for that month and I was so impressed that I just had to know what happened next. Also, because I find Ruby Daly an intriguing character enough to be invested in knowing how she makes it through this one colossal heck of a government screw-up. Never Fade successfully kept up with the same brand of intensity I have loved from its predecessor and I easily adored all the additional characters introduced in this book. Most of all, that momentous build-up on Ruby and Liam’s confrontation cum profession of unconditional love sent me reeling and clutching at my chest with its raw and almost painful honesty.
This book knows how to pierce your heart in so many ways. On the downside however, as much as this is its most obvious strength, there’s the danger of it also being its inevitable flaw. I love when a book isn’t afraid to go hardcore in putting the characters’ lives in death-defying dilemmas, but when death-defying dilemmas happen every single freaking day of their lives, it can be vulnerable to being overwrought and excruciating. I understand that they are on the constant run from the baddies and that it is necessary to inflict as much helplessness and defeat as possible but ladies and gentlemen, there’s such a thing as a case of TOO MUCH TRAGEDY and trust me, an infuriated reader can only bear so much.
Rebel Belle (Rachel Hawkins) ★★★☆☆
Rachel Hawkins’ ‘Rebel Belle’ came as a delightful surprise mainly because of two reasons: a.) my downtrodden feelings over the relentless misfortunes of Never Fade definitely gave so much room of opportunity to welcome this book’s light, romantic comedy-ish sweetness and b.) the book’s somewhat off-putting first sentence (‘Looking back, none of this would have happened if I’d brought lip gloss the night of the homecoming dance.’) didn’t exactly set my expectations running wild with fevered anticipation. But then a couple of paragraphs later she got kissed by the school janitor in the bathroom, got attacked by her school teacher and ended up killing him with her pointed stilettos, exchanged sassy, playful banter with her lifelong nemesis from childhood and unknowingly acquired supernatural powers all in the span of an hour and damn, this book is just so much fun. Harper, our main girl, is an overachiever in almost all aspects of her life and the plot is, amusingly, a chronicle of her deconstruction, of her learning how to let go of control, of how she learned to just be. She’s so used to taking centerstage of everything she sets her mind on that the realness of how her world came crashing down when she became a paladin (aka a supernatural knightess-in-shining-armor) easily makes a reader sympathize with her frustrations and round-the-clock anxiety. What if the perfect girl who gets everything she wants has to give it all up to become the protector of the boy she’s hated for ages? Yup, you’ve read that right—what if the girl has to be the one who would defend the guy instead of being the one being defended? The story is so heavily centered on the love story that the rest of the plot somewhat dimmed into vagueness—a danger so many fantasy YA series are prone to. The writing is too loose and sometimes convoluted to be ever taken seriously but nonetheless it’s a delicious mix of cute, frothy romance, after-school lessons on magical badassery, hilarious life-and-death supernatural hijinks and a plot twist towards the end that will probably make you utter the F word in all the languages that ever existed.
Since you’ve Been Gone (Morgan Matson) ★★★★☆
For me, the best kind of summer books are those stories that remind you of how wonderful it is to be young and alive, how powerful every moment counts and how the chances to find your one true love can seem endless with possibilities. Morgan Matson’s Since You’ve Been Gone did exactly that: it managed to hit me in all the right spots and made me wax nostalgic like crazy. (I’m not even that old but somehow those years of being carefree and confident feels like an eternity ago.)The characters are quirky and relatable and their camaraderie with one another cackles with a genuineness so apparent it almost makes me half jealous. First of all, there’s my fatal weakness for stories featuring wallflowers breaking out of their shells. Wallflowers are my favorite kind of underdogs, see. The ones who fade into the background in the midst of loud parties, the ones who fidget during conversations and mask their deep thoughts with their silences and scarcity of words. I also have insta-fascination with stories structured around lists and this one is all about putting yourself out there, about making the most out of life by daring to be more. More than anything else, the best thing I loved about this book is the friendship between the two main characters, Emily and Sloane, and how their differences complimented them in such a beautiful way instead of it being a barrier that could make them clash. They love each other and adore each other so much that all they really wanted is to bring out the best in one another. They have imperfections and fallouts and misunderstandings but at the end of the day, they’d always seek each other out, even if it takes a long list of improbable dares or a thousand miles to get them back. Because sometimes a friend empowering a friend is also a kind of a love story in its own too.
Poison Study (Maria V. Snyder) ★★★★☆
Sure, the classics have no shortage of great heroines but I still can’t help to be grateful that I live in an era where majority of the female protagonists are written to be a hundred kinds of badass. Maria Snyder’s Poison Study introduced me to perhaps one of the toughest, most lethal chicks in modern fantasy fiction: Yelena, a convicted murderer and food taster to the commander. I love it when an author holds nothing back in pulling punches and Maria V. Snyder went hardcore from the very first chapter to the last. What’s even better is how violence as a concept is utilized not just as a mere plot device to propel the story forward but as the actual heart of the world and setting of the story itself. Atmospheric, vibrant and frightening, Yelena’s life—both past and present—are laden with pain and power politics and instead of getting her spirit crushed so easily under the struggle, she rises to strike back at her aggressors and best of all, she survives. I think the reason why a lot of us enjoy reading about strong and fierce women is because they make us feel electric, invincible even, like their triumph is also our triumph and like no amount of hurt in this world could break us. Hells yeah.
Miss Mayhem (Rachel Hawkins) ★★☆☆☆
It still kind of makes my heart wince to write this but ugh: Rebel Belle’s second book, Miss Mayhem, is another sad case I would file under the failed expectations category. This is the trickiest thing about sequels and series in general: THEY MAKE YOU HOPE. I immensely enjoyed the introduction of this world in the first book and how the characters are laid out in such a way that made me cheer for them, made me want them to be alright and safe and goddamnit—happy! The ending of Rebel Belle made me itch to pick up the next book so darn bad that I immediately had to read it as soon as I get my hands on a copy. And then after it sent my hopes flying into Milky Way and back it sends me crashing back to earth with a strong enough thud to make my level of interest to read what’s next of the series plummet down to a scorching hot zero. Dear book, I thought we had a thing going on but what the hell? What have you done to the characters I’ve grown to be fond of and why are they behaving in annoying, irrational ways? What happened to the promise of a kick-ass plot and why does everything feel so flat and dull and forced? Did you purposely have Miss Mayhem as a title because you are one hot absolute mess of a story? Rachel Hawkins, WHY????
Beauty Queens (Libba Bray) ★★★★☆
You know what’s better than having one great heroine? Having a dozen great heroines. This book has been one of my most anticipated reads in the history of ever and oh boy, what a riot this one was. This is not my first Libba Bray book; I’ve read The Diviners towards the end of last year and found it rich, brilliant and dazzling in scope. My feelings for that book and this book almost seems identical: It’s not exactly what I would call being completely won-over to give it the five star rate of perfection but still being mindblown anyways by the sheer ambition of its themes and execution. I really like Libba Bray’s grand concepts and the stunning creativity and style with which she fleshes out her worlds and her characters. Beauty Queen is narrated in segments resembling an actual TV program complete with interjected commercial spoofs and other meta-advertisement jokes and every now and then I find myself on the verge of a snicker or a guffaw or an overwhelming urge to shout YASSSS at the top of my lungs. I love its frankness, its humor and its pointed social mockumentary on arguments touching on feminism, gender, culture and capitalism. Whew, the fearlessness of it all makes me sweat and makes me sigh in delicious relief. How liberating it is to finally have an author who says all the right things in the right (and awesomest) ways. Thank you, Libba Bray. You deserve a sparkly, diamond-encrusted tiara of literary fabulousness!
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (E.Lockhart) ★★★★ ☆
You know, I like giving authors a second chance if they failed to give me a good first impression. And seriously, one of the best feelings in the world is seeing a writer redeem his/her self with another book. E. Lockhart’s vastly hyped novel We Were Liars somewhat created one of the wildest chasms in the reading community in recent memory; On one side you have the OMGWOWTHISBOOKISTHEBESTBOOKEVA camp where people kept singing praises to this book and rambling about how it made them cry oceans of angsty tears and applauding it to the high heavens etc. On the opposite side you have the one-star wielding people who mercilessly critiqued the book and called it insufferably pretentious and boring. I’m not even kidding, go to goodreads and you can see how the bipolar reviews go on forever. Me, I’m stuck in the dead-center of this clash. I didn’t hate the book that much because for all its worth, the writing is sentimental and at times poetic, and on the surface there’s always the gleaning promise that this writer knows her own depth and skill. But still, the maddening predictability of the plot twist ruined the entire reading experience for me. And this is why my heart can now let out a big sigh of relief because finally, here’s an E.Lockhart book that I love. The mind and voice of Frankie Landau-Banks is a force to be reckoned with. She is not 100% likeable and there are times when her haughtiness and constant need to prove herself can border on exasperating, but you’ll be in awe of her nonetheless. The prestigious prep school setting provided a terrific portrait of the world Frankie is trying to go against: elitist, patriarchal, condescending and egotistical. The plot is fun and intelligent and engaging–unlike We Were Liars where I didn’t feel any connection at all with the characters, I am wholly invested in Frankie and the members of the secret society she has flawlessly infiltrated. Days after I’ve finished this book I still find myself thinking about things I’ve never really paid much attention to in the past–the politics of being a boy and a girl and what makes us different and how our genders motivate us to either pledge our trust in people or to isolate and exclude ourselves from others. Hence, this book is a double triumph: for E.Lockhart and for the one-of-a-kind, absolutely unforgettable literary heroine she has brought to life.
►Book Cover Design of the Month
I’m not kidding when I say that my book lust for this book cover has been going on for several years now and just asdfghjkl look at how gorgeous it is! If I could, I would buy a trophy for this book cover’s designer and tell him/her that if ever I’ll get to publish my own book in the future, I’d like them to design mine. Seriously, look at that beautiful cover!
►Book Quote of the Month
“Why do girls always feel like they have to apologize for giving an opinion or taking up space in the world? Have you ever noticed that?” Nicole asked. “You go on websites and some girl leaves a post and if it’s longer than three sentences or she’s expressing her thoughts about some topic, she usually ends with, ‘Sorry for the rant’ or ‘That may be dumb, but that’s what I think.”
–Beauty Queens, Libba Bray
►Favorite Literary Characters
Sloane (Since You’ve Been Gone)
You know a character is so memorably and stellarly written when they don’t even make an actual appearance on the book until the second to the last chapter but their presence is still so undeniably discernible from the beginning till the end. Emily is the main character of this story but Sloane is at the heart of its plot–her sudden, unexplained disappearance from her life set the chain of events unfolding for Emily and left her with no choice but to become a better, newly-improved version of herself. Emily calls Sloane a ‘social tornado’ because she has a natural, charming way of being the light and center of things wherever she goes. But more importantly, Emily also sees her as the best kind of best friend– someone who will yank you out of your shell if it calls for it, which is what she did precisely for Emily. I want to be that kind of friend to my best friend: someone who can believe in the greatness of people and will never stop until they see how awesome and beautiful they can become.
Frankie ( The Disreputable History of Frankie-Landau Banks)
Frankie Landau-Banks has achieved a reputation so rarely achieved by people in this lifetime: she chose to speak up than to stay silent. And so she fearlessly says awesome things like: “I can feel like a hag some days if I want! And I can tell everybody how insecure I am if I want! Or I can be pretty and pretend to think I’m a hag out of fake modesty –- I can do that if I want, too. Because you, Livingston, are not the boss of me and what kind of girl I become.” Woot, who knew spunk can sound so sexy? She redefines girl power in a whole new level–she recognized the invisible box her society is trying to shove her into and she cunningly relented, only to master its boundaries so she could break it. And the awesomest part of it all is how she describes and sees herself so perfectly amidst the chaos and clash of the sexes; she calls herself indelible.
►Worst Book of the Month
Miss Mayhem (Rachel Hawkins)
With great expectations comes great frustrations. The end.
►Best Book of the Month
The Disresputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (E.Lockhart)
This book is very tricky to recommend because it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It is loud, very opinionated, unapolegetic and daring. Do not read this book if you don’t like books that make you uncomfortable. Do not read this book if you want your heroines simple and sweet because Frankie Landau-Banks is the complete antithesis of the stereotypical society darling–she craves power and unabashedly pursues it because she sees herself just as worthy as the boys around her. Frankie’s mission to outwit the members of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds can appear obssesive and self-centered at some point but at the end of the day it’s a testament to her persistence and ambition. She doesn’t have superhuman strength or magical powers, but her will and her wits made a difference in the people around her–both on the fictional universe she lives in and to every reader who will read her story. So read this, if you’re okay with triumphs that doesn’t necessarily end in happy ever afters. Read this if you want to get a fresh perspective about girls who want to be respected as much as they are loved. Read this, if you would like to understand how there are moments when girls don’t want to be shoved at the top of a fragile pedestal; sometimes girls just want to walk beside boys not as an arm-candy but a formidable equal.