I don’t even know where to really begin with this book because… Oh my lord, THIS BOOK! Be forewarned, this review won’t contain purposeful spoilers, but since it’s the last book in a trilogy, if you haven’t read the first two books then 1. You should go do that—immediately. And 2. This review may spoil some things from those books just because that’s the nature of this particular beast. I don’t usually fangirl in my book reviews, but when it comes to Hackett’s books, it’s really hard for me not to. Her stories are magical and full of adventure and twists and turns, her characters are endearing and complex, she gives you just enough sweetness before punching you in the gut, but then makes it up to you with fun character banter. “Ventus” pays off on all of the set up from the previous two books but with some of my favorite character arcs and redemptions of the whole series.
“Black Girl Unlimited” is the ‘based on a true story’ life of the author herself, with a fantasy-magical realism overlay to everything, especially the traumatic parts. This book is devastating, but not in a bad way, but more in the way of a gifted girl, hating how she looks because she is a dark skinned black girl, believing she is an ugly beast because she isn’t lighter and doesn’t have ‘good hair’, kind of way. It’s heartbreaking to see how she views herself, not to mention watching her family’s struggle with racism, and Echo’s parents being drunks and addicted to cocaine. That’s not to say the book isn’t laced with hope, because it is! But the story is primarily focused on the young Echo and her struggle to survive in a world that has been stacked against her. There are some very heavy topics here alongside the systematic racism Echo faces, such as: drug abuse, sexual assault, and the rape of minors. All of these topics fit with the world Echo lives in, so they aren’t there just for shock value, but if those are sensitive topics for you, be forewarned. This book also happens to be my first foray into magical realism, so it’s very possible that I just don’t “get” certain things, but to me, the magic was more a metaphor then actually, well, magical.
“Riot Baby” isn’t really about Ella and her magical “Thing”, nor is it about, as the synopsis suggests, the revolution for racial equality in this barely alternate and vaguely more futuristic version of America. I say that because the events that define Kev—the actual Riot Baby—like the LA riot of 1992, and the police brutality aimed primarily at Black communities is all very real, and in Ella and Kev’s world, only taken to a slightly bigger level by the futuristic technology and weaponry the police use to terrorize these communities. This book is really about the anger felt with structural racism and brutality shown through the lens of an intimate family view of those who suffer under such conditions. Ella, her mom, and brother Kev are all just trying to live, but that becomes almost impossible with how America treats its Black citizens. This book is written in such a beautiful, raw, and angry tone which demands readers to confront systematic racial injustice head on. This novella evokes so many emotions and is crafted in really a magnificent way—Onyebuchi is a masterful writer! But story wise? I had a really hard time connecting.
The Black Flamingo follows Michael, a young half-Jamaican half-Greek Cyprian from boyhood to his coming of age in university. Michael struggles with never feeling Black enough, Greek enough, and that being gay is at odds with all these other parts of himself, all while wrestling with a father who never seems to want to see him, and a mother who doesn’t understand that Michael would rather play with Barbie’s then Ninja Turtles. Even with the story seeped in deep questions of identity, there were light moments of family love between Michael and his sister, the power of friendships, and even the sweetness of falling for a guy you never thought would see you in that way, and to have him like you back. Not to mention discovering your tribe—in the university Drag Society for Michael! This was my first verse novel ever, and I admit I was a bit worried going into it—I’ve shied away from verse before as I am not great at connecting with poetry and I had a hard time imagining I could really lose myself in an entire novel written in this format. Oh. My. Goodness. I’m ashamed it took me so long to give this format a try!
I admit I don’t read many retellings of classic fairy-tales. They just don’t tend to interest me that much. But when I saw this steampunk retelling of Cinderella, I was all over that! I love me some steampunk feminism! And let’s be clear, this book is nothing like Cinder, and I do think this book suffered some from coming out close to the same time as that super popular series. These two retellings have nothing in common except their source material. Our MC in this book, Nicolette, is an inventor, she makes amazing things in the workshop her mother left behind. It’s her one source of solace in a home where her step family have diminished her to a life of servitude, bereft of love. I love the idea that Nicolette isn’t looking for anyone to rescue her. She makes plans to get out and live a life of her choosing free of her step family and follows through on it. It has a very strong message for young women on not needing a man to complete you, and the power of female friendships. The book has a delicious bitter sweetness to it for the most part that I liked, but overall the book felt incomplete with too many loose ends that were so interesting! And when those plot points didn’t actually get explored, it made the rest of the book feel boring and other subplots feel tacked on with little regard to the story as a whole.
Click the book images to see them on Amazon!