The Seattle Times asked two teenage writers to review some of the summer’s hottest young adult fiction titles. From “It Ends in Fire” to “The Taking of Jake Livingston,” here’s what they thought.
“It Ends In Fire” by Andrew Shvarts. Alka Chelrazi is on a mission to bring down Wizard society, no matter the cost. To do this, she must infiltrate Blackwater Academy, the elite magic school where she will face enemies and make unexpected allies in her effort to avenge her murdered parents. This book contains many common tropes of wizarding schools, such as sorting students into groups, and a high-stakes magical tournament where students play for their honor. However, Shvarts also uses the magical Wizards and non-magic Humbles to discuss oppression and injustice. In this universe, Humbles are second-class citizens. They have no influence over the Wizard-run government, they are often servants or working-class folks, and they are punished at the will of Wizards. Although this metaphor for class injustice is heavy-handed at times, it adds dimension to the fictional world by fully exploring the implications of vast power imbalance. Overall, this is a fun and quick-paced story that will engage and challenge readers.
“Six Crimson Cranes” by Elizabeth Lim. Shiori is the strong-willed princess of Kiata, harboring secret magic and dreading her impending wedding. When her six brothers are cursed to become cranes, Shiori is also cursed. Forced to cover her face and rendered unable to speak without killing her brothers, Shiori searches for a way to break the curse, relying on unexpected allies who together uncover a plot to overthrow the empire. This retelling of the Brothers Grimm tale “The Six Swans” infused with Asian folklore is refreshing. Even though race does not play a large role in the story, it is nice to see Asians represented and normalized in the fantasy genre. This book contains darker elements reminiscent of the source material, but they do not dominate the overall tone of the book. Lim navigates this tonal balance well, making “Six Crimson Cranes” a satisfying read.
— Reviews by Frances Vonada
“A Dark and Starless Forest” by Sarah Hollowell. When Derry’s sisters start disappearing into the woods with no explanation, she must solve the mystery of their disappearance while also navigating family relationships and mental health — and learning who she is as a magician. The structure of “A Dark and Starless Forest” feels like a fairy tale, with its seven siblings and menacing father figure and the dark magical world. This fairy tale feeling gets a fresh update with its compelling plot and vibrant characters, who are distinct and recognizable from the first few pages. Overall, Hollowell uses magic and mystery to create a coming-of-age story that is both comfortingly familiar and excitingly modern.
“The Taking of Jake Livingston” by Ryan Douglass. Life isn’t easy for Jake Livingston; not only is he a gay, Black teen at an all-white school with no queer friends, he’s also plagued by his ability to see dead things. When the ghost of a school shooter becomes obsessed with him, he must save himself and the people he cares about while still navigating the hardships of high school. The book has a few moments of clunky exposition and uncreative dialogue, unsurprising in a young adult fantasy novel. But these moments don’t have as much lasting impact as Douglass’ unique and terrifying world built on tension and ghosts.
— Reviews by Lark Keteyian