Sunday, June 14, 2015

Recent Reads: Diversity Edition

I've been lazy when it comes to blogging, lately. I know it, you know it, publishers know it.
It's embarrassing.
In my defense, I spend every waking minute either sleeping, studying, eating, or de-stressing with friends. I squeeze in a few minutes every day to read, even if it's just one chapter, but actually sitting down to write a review--or even jot down a few thoughts--is simply too much. (I know, I know, it's SUMMER, but I'm at an internship, people! I'm supposedly conducting Very Important Math Research! I get paychecks! I have to buy my own groceries! I'M BECOMING AN ADULT!)
I've published a few reviews, here and there, that weren't written over Winter Break. I've assembled a handful of guest posts, commented on a couple of blogs a week--I've been present but, unfortunately, the books that I've wanted to discuss have slipped under the radar.
Hence, this post; Recent Reads: Diversity Edition.
One of the most notable--and pleasant surprises--of 2015 has been discovering diversity in the fiction I've been reading. YA and NA are notorious for ignoring minority races, sexes, and personalities so I'm truly so proud of the strides that the publishing industry and authors are making to lessen this gap.

First and foremost, I want to talk about Trade Me, Courtney Milan's latest novel and her debut New Adult endeavor. Courtney Milan is known for writing unusual historical romance novels--the kind that make you swoon but also make you think. I love her historical fiction primarily because she writes about the types of female heroines no other author really feels comfortable discussing, whether it be the feminists, the scientists, the overly large, or those of different races. What's more, her male characters range from the classic duke to the a-typical male virgin to the self-proclaimed male suffragist. Thus, I knew Trade Me was going to be a treat even before I cracked open its spine because--Courtney Milan.

But Trade Me surpassed even my wildest expectations. Built upon the foundation of a relatively flimsy plot line--wealthy young man volunteers to switch lives with a poor immigrant woman--Trade Me does a brilliant job of pointing out not only the privileges of the wealthy, but also of the non-immigrant. It features an Asian protagonist and is one of the first times that I have been able to sympathize completely with a character due to her life circumstances--immigrant parents who don't fit into the American culture, a series of different traditional values, struggling to make ends meet, missing family members who live oversees. And, honestly, I found the entire experience shocking and eye-opening. How was Trade Me, published in January of 2015, the first time I had been able to relate to the immigrant experience in a YA or NA novel? It made me angry but, most of all, it made me grateful to Courtney Milan for doing her research and being brave enough to write about a culture of people different from her own.

Beyond the in-your-face diversity of an Asian protagonist, though, Milan weaves this love story through many complex issues. Unfortunately, I cannot reveal much more due to fear of spoilers, but none of these characters are what they seem on the surface--and I love that. Admittedly, the whole "the rich have problems, too!" trope seems cliche but, I promise you, Milan writes it in such a way that you never find yourself thinking that way. If you're looking for a couple to swoon over, but one that will destroy your every pre-conceived notion about them, Trade Me is the book for you.

Next: Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes. I had Stokes stop by on the blog a few weeks ago to talk about the diversity in her latest novel, a thriller, and was incredibly moved by her discussion of not only racial diversity--with Parvati, the female love-interest of the novel--but also of Max, the protagonist. From the surface, there doesn't seem to be a lot of diversity to offer with Max--after all, he is a Causasion, heterosexual male. But, Max isn't your typical male protagonist. Not only does he struggle academically, but he also isn't the classic bad boy or the shy nerd or the cute guy-next-door. And, by breaking that mold, Stokes introduces a new form of diversity: diversity of personality. It's okay not to fit into a pre-labeled, pre-stamped, and pre-approved box.

I also really appreciated the fact that the female protagonist of this novel, Parvati, wasn't the perfect love interest. I adore a sharp-tongued, nasty female lead, if only because they defy the stereotype that women must be perfect and dainty and polite. Moreover, I rarely see it done with a woman of color because--let's be honest--I think authors are worried to include PoC who aren't cast in the role of "good guy." PoC are just as flawed and real as non-PoC so, authors, don't worry about offending us by creating angry and bitterly caustic PoC. Not that Parvati is just oozing badness, but she certainly is far from perfect and I appreciate the unapologetic ambiguity in her characterization.

And speaking of imperfect female heroines, that brings me to Rosamund Hodge's Crimson Bound, one of my favorite novels published this year. Hodge's debut, Cruel Beauty, already struck the perfect cord with me. After all, we had an angry 'Beauty' and an evil 'Beast'--can you really even beat that? But Hodge did one better in Crimson Bound, making her protagonist a killer. Can you redeem an individual like that? Do you?

One of the strongest aspects of this novel, for me, is the fact that Hodge enables us, the reader, to sympathize with and root for a heroine who is selfish, who murders others, and in general is not the paragon of perfection we've come to associate with an ideal female lead. Now that, right there, that's diversity. Rachelle isn't all-out evil--not even close--but she also does bad, horrible things. Yet, this story comes together so perfectly, weaving together a fairy tale re-telling with the background of a host of characters who stand by their flawed personalities and still manage to come out stronger; to grow and change. Moreover, Hodge is a genius at building re-tellings that can be recognized but that also veer off the beaten track and incorporate innovate magic combined with unseen plot twists so that you're on the edge of your seat till the very end. I love them, dearly, and am waiting with bated breath for her next novel. I know she will deliver.

Of course, these aren't all the diverse reads I've read recently but they are some of the most meaningful ones I've come across this year. Others, like The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler (literally my new favorite book EVER!) and The Wrath and the Dawn will be getting their own, full-fledged reviews soon. And yet others, like Trish Doller's The Devil You Know, while well-appreciated for their feminism, simply didn't do it for me storyline-wise. (And, further, others, like Simon and the Homo Sapien Agenda were just so good I couldn't find the words to write about them!) Nevertheless, I think the awareness of characters that break the mold and defy traditional racial, sexual, and gender norms is rising and I'm excited to read more novels tackling these barriers to diversity.

If you know of any other diverse reads, please let me know in the comments below! I'm always on the prowl for a new read and, in particular, authors brave enough to write stories that may not sell, but will definitely make a statement and take a stand.


  1. Keertana, it's totally understandable that your internship is keeping you so busy! I'm honored to have you leaving lovely comments on my blog despite your busy schedule. Nevertheless, I love reading any review you write, whether it be short or long. I like the way you bunched these three together in a Diversity Edition!

    I've never read anything by Milan, but I've heard amazing things. It's fantastic that her first go at NA was a success! I'm interested to see how her Asian protagonist is written, being that I'm Asian as well and can understand the immigrant discomfort in fitting in with American culture. I read Liars, Inc. a few months ago too and really enjoyed it! Stokes did a wonderful job with creating diversity without it being in-your-face obvious. As for Crimson Bound, I think that Hodge's main protagonist being the villain is an extremely interesting take on YA stories! After hearing your rave reviews for Hodge's books, I seriously need to pick them up.

    Hehehe, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids certainly was a good one! I loved Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda as well, I think I'm going to go back and reread it just because I sped through that one so quickly. I hope you sneak in some more time to read this summer alongside balancing your busy schedule with your internship and friends/family!

  2. I thought the Summer of Chasing Mermaids was utterly fantastic in so many ways! And Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda really put a smile on my face.

  3. I think right now for some reason, a lot of us are going through this right now. I've been reading but writing a review is painful.

    Glad you are at least, reading some good books. ;)

  4. hey now. don't you worry about a thing. paycheques are important, and we all know we get paid zero dollars for blogging. Lol. So, don't sweat it!

  5. I'm sorry you don't have much time to read/review, but I totally get what you mean. I'm on summer break from school and one of my jobs and yet it's still difficult to get everything done. I love this post though - diversity in all aspects from looks to personality, etc. is very important, and you pointed out some great titles (some I know, others I don't).


  6. You absolutely should NOT be embarrassed that you haven't been blogging as much lately Keertana, you have a ton going on - like life - and you should be able to enjoy that without stressing about your blog:) You'll get no judgement from me! A huge yay for internships, paychecks, and buying your own groceries:)

    As far as your reviews go, I need to read all of these, but I'm particularly interested Trade Me. I love Courtney Milan something fierce and I'm excited to read something by her other than her amazing historical romances!

  7. Adding Trade Me to my wishlist. Lord you are busy Keetana I think it is awesome you still manage to read :)

  8. Oh I love this post! I'm always in the mood for diversity in books. I love that you included one that just was "It's okay not to fit into a pre-labeled, pre-stamped, and pre-approved box." Because isn't that really the definition of diversity and one we all feel like we inhabit in at least one or more aspects of our lives? Odd what we have in common is that we aren't common. :D

    Btw, don't adult! NO! You won't like it. ;)

  9. I've read quite a few books with diversity in them, and I find it much more realistic because real life is quite diverse. Especially in Southern California where I live, it's a melting pot of cultures and types.

    Just recently I read Grave Phantoms by Jenn Bennett which dealt with prejudices in the 1920's with Astrid falling in love with Bo and man of Asian decent when that was very much looked down upon. I completely loved the story.

    Wonderful post, Keertana. I totally understand why it would be hard to blog or write reviews. Lately I've been having trouble writing them myself. No trouble reading, just trouble finding what I want to say about it. Good luck with your internship! :)

  10. I love how I've read almost all the books you mentioned in this post. DIVERSITY FTW.

    Personally, I find that at least this year, YA has been doing a LOT better job in being Diverse. I've been reading a lot of books this year that hit that mark for me and I think what I want is to see this diversity in main stream adult as well. I love how Courtney Milan does her HRs but I also wonder if we cannot have more HRs that are diverse. I feel like most of the HRs I've read feature straight Caucasian males and females and while I do tend to see diverse personalities I also just want to see DIVERSITY you know? Yup. That's my two cents on the issue!

    I love the books you've picked though and I had NO idea that Courtney Milan had a new book that came out this year that was an NA. I do know she has a new HR coming out soon so I AM COUNTING DOWN.

    LOVE the post, Keertana!! :)

    (Also I hope you find more breaks over the summer to read! Look at you adulting though! I've learned over the past year it isn't as easy as it seems *cries*)

    Rashika @ The Social Potato

  11. First of all, TRADE ME sounds legit awesome! :D I love the sound of it and I've heard so many good things about Courtney Milan. I really need to check her stuff out and may start with this.

    I agree that Liars Inc was more about diversity of character than anything else. Max was really a very refreshing narrator, someone that I haven't really heard before, someone who had a voice that was amazingly real and unique. I also liked Parvati, too, objectively, but subjectively, I couldn't really connect with her much and I felt her culture wasn't really shown that well.

    It's my dream to find a book with a legit Filipina heroine. I haven't really read a satisfying one though so I am making it on my Wattpad account. Still ongoing, but it'll get there! Haha.

    Faye at The Social Potato

  12. Keertana, while I wish you were present in blogosphere more, I totally understand that education is your priority now. Don’t feel embarrassed. I love your writing style and it’s always such a pleasure to read your reviews. Please, keep reading and reviewing at a comfortable for you pace.

    This is very interesting and thought-provoking post.

    Courtney Milan was placed on my radar by your and Sarah from Clear Eyes, Full Shelves’ praises for her historical romance. I even mentioned it in my review. I’m not a big fun of this genre, so I haven’t read Milans’ HR, but I was quick to pick up her NA, when Trade Me was released. I agree with you about Trade Me, Milan gave us diversity in Asian heroine, Blake’s condition, Tina’s friend Maria and several other things. And it looks like there will be even more diversity in the next book. I also found plot to be unbelievable, and the romance was weak in my opinion, but I was able look past them.

    I haven’t read Liars, Inc, but you’ve made very interesting point about diversity of personality. It’s so true that we often see stereotype hero and heroine in books; and it’s wonderful that this book stayed away from usual labels.

    As for Crimson Bound, I’ve already have this book and really looking forward to read it. I totally agree that Rosamund Hodges managed to create not only an unusual heroine, but also a hero, which doesn’t fit in usual standarts. You’ve had an amazing guest post with Rosamund Hodge, by the way.

    You asked about diverse reads. Well… Last Will and Testament by Dahlia Adler – while this book didn’t worked for me, main character Lizzie definitely wasn’t your usual heroine. The Art of Lainey by Paula Stokes - love interest, Micah is not your typical bad boy. And finally Sam from Maggie Stiefvater’s The Wolves of Mercy Falls series


I love hearing from my readers and I read, reply, and appreciate every one of the comments I receive!(: If you're a fellow blogger, please leave a link to your blog - I'd love to drop by!

Unfortunately, this is now an award-free blog. I simply do not have the time to respond and forward on the award, but I truly appreciate the nomination regardless.