Tigers, Not Daughters: A (WIRoB) Review

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books:

Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha MabryEveryone in Southtown knows the four Torres sisters. And everyone remembers the night they were caught trying to run away — especially the boys across the street, who flock to Hector’s house at night to watch Ana, the eldest at almost 18, undress in her bedroom window.

While she does, they dream of all the ways they could save her from their “old neighborhood, with its old San Antonio families and its traditions so strong and deep we could practically feel them tugging at our heels when we walked across our yards.”

If it wasn’t for their infatuation and accidental intervention in the sisters’ escape attempt, everything might have been different. Ana would never have fallen from her window; she “wouldn’t have died two months later and her sisters wouldn’t have been forced to suffer at the hands of her angry ghost.”

A year later, after “a brief but catastrophic mourning period,” the girls’ widowed father is barely keeping it together. Jessica is trying to focus on her boring job at the pharmacy, her boyfriend, and not much else. Iridian hasn’t left the house in weeks — all the better to read Ana’s old supernatural romances and write the best scenes of her own. And Rosa, the youngest, always “more attentive than most people,” tries to follow the signs — the connections — when a hyena goes missing from the zoo on the anniversary of Ana’s death in Tigers, Not Daughters (2020) by Samantha Mabry.

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Set primarily over the course of 10 days, this book follows the surviving sisters in close third-person as they move through the grief over Ana’s death and the increasingly obvious signals that she isn’t entirely gone.

Flashbacks narrated collectively by Hector’s friends relate all of the ways in which the boys bear witness to the disasters that befall the Torres sisters and, more importantly, highlight “the many times we could have said or done something and, instead, we said and did nothing.”

These multiple viewpoints allow the story to shift between the girls’ linear narrations and the boys’ flashbacks that chronicle all the ways the sisters have been objectified — and failed — by the men in their lives.

This shift is especially obvious as Jessica repeatedly tries to move out of her overbearing and abusive boyfriend’s shadow, “tired of boys pulling on her, attempting to invade the life she’d tried so hard to keep protected.”

Though each sister has her own journey to complete while making peace with Ana’s sudden death, all three learn the importance of saving themselves — and each other — instead of remaining, as Iridian thinks, at the mercy of men “trying to leave their bruises all over her and her sisters.”

Throughout Tigers, Not Daughters, author Samantha Mabry blends elements of magical realism, moments of connection and grief, and genuinely eerie scares to create a story exploring the “magic in small things,” as well as a timely ode to sisterhood and feminism.

Possible Pairings: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova, The Sullivan Sisters by Kathryn Ormsbee, When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter, Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby, A Room Away From the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma, The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth, The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters, Who Killed Christopher Goodman? by Allan Wolf

The Poet X: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for The Poet X by Elizabeth AcevedoXiomara Batista may not know exactly who she is, but she knows who she isn’t. She isn’t the devout, proper girl her traditional Dominican mother expects her to be. She isn’t the genius like her twin brother. She isn’t the quiet girl that her teachers would probably before. And she definitely isn’t whatever it is that the boys and men who catcall her expect either.

Xiomara is tough. She is a fighter. She is unapologetic. She may not believe in god–or at least not enough to complete her communion classes the way her mother wants. She might be falling for a boy for the first time. And, after discovering slam poetry in her English class, she is starting to realize that she is a poet in The Poet X (2018) by Elizabeth Acevedo.

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The Poet X is Acevedo’s powerful debut (verse) novel. It is also a National Book Award and Printz award winner.

Individual poems come together to tell Xiomara’s story as she journals her way through a tumultuous year in high school as she tries to reconcile expectations placed upon her with the person she wants to become.

Familial conflict is tempered with a sweet romance and Xiomara’s journey from quiet observer to a poet ready to take center stage. Questions of faith and what it means to be devout are also constantly on Xiomara’s mind as she tries (and fails) to be the kind of Catholic girl her mother expects.

The Poet X is a fierce, engaging, feminist story that explores what it means to create and live on your own terms. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali, A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhatena, Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll, Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, 500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario, Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty, Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough, Pride by Ibi Zoboi

Bruja Born: A Review

*Bruja Born is the second book in Córdova’s Brooklyn Brujas trilogy. To avoid spoilers start at the beginning with the first book Labyrinth Lost.*

cover art for Bruja Born by Zoraida CórdovaLula Mortiz has always been the healer, the beautiful one. That was before her younger sister Alex accidentally trapped Lula and all of her family in the underworld of Los Lagos, before maloscuros attacked Lula leaving her with scars across her cheek.

Sisterly bonds and everything Lula thought she knew about magic are tested as she struggles to move on the way the rest of her family has. When Lula is involved in a fatal bus crash she’s determined bring back her boyfriend, Maks, who has been the one stable thing in her life. But every bruja knows it’s impossible to beat Death–even with powerful magic on your side in Bruja Born (2018) by Zoraida Córdova.

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Bruja Born is the second book in Córdova’s Brooklyn Brujas trilogy. To avoid spoilers start at the beginning with the first book Labyrinth Lost.

This fantasy sequel picks up shortly after the events of Labyrinth Lost where readers meet the Mortiz family as Alex first tries to magic away her powers and then has to rescue her family from Los Lagos with her best friend (and now girlfriend) Rishi. This time around the story is narrated by Lula as she tries to cope with the aftermath of Los Lagos including the attack that has left her face scarred and the sudden return of her long-missing father.

Córdova blows the world of the Brooklyn Brujas series wide open as readers learn more about the Mortiz family and the Deos. Brooklyn Bruja also introduces the Knights of Lavant and the leaders of the Thorne Hill Alliance who manage all magical beings within the city. (The Thorne Hill Alliance made their first appearance in the author’s debut series The Vicious Deep.)

Excessive zombies and hunts for answers bring Lula and her sisters across Brooklyn in this plot-driven novel. Lula’s introspective narration shifts neatly to high action as the zombie outbreak heats up and Lula works to restore the balance between life and death.

A cliffhanger of an epilogue and questions surrounding youngest sister Rose and the family’s sometimes ally Nova will leave fans eager for the next volume. Bruja Born is a fast-paced story sure to appeal to fans of the first novel in particular and urban fantasy in general.

Possible Pairings: Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst, Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, Nocturna by Maya Motayne, Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar, Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Charmed (TV series)

*A more condensed version of this review was published in the May 2018 issue of School Library Journal as a Starred Review*

Labyrinth Lost: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida CordovaAlex is the most powerful bruja her family has seen in generations. Her mother and sisters are thrilled when Alex’s powers manifest so powerfully. But Alex knows that magic always has a cost and she’s unwilling to risk her family after already losing her father to wayward magic years ago.

Determined to rid herself of her magic before anyone else gets hurt, Alex turns to the family Book of Cantos for a spell to use on her Death Day–before she accepts the blessings of her family’s dead spirits and truly comes into her powers.

When Alex’s spell to get rid of her magic backfires and her family disappears from their Brooklyn home, she’ll have to travel to the world of Los Lagos to get them back with help from her best friend Rishi and a strange brujo boy with his own agenda in Labyrinth Lost (2016) by Zoraida Córdova.

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Labyrinth Lost is the start to Córdova’s new Brooklyn Brujas series.

Córdova borrows from elements of santeria and latinx culture to create her own well-realized magic system in this highly enjoyable urban fantasy. Alex is a kickass heroine whose love for her family leads to near-catastrophe as her magic backfires and sends her relatives (living and dead) to Los Lagos.

Alex remains proactive and wastes no time wallowing as she bargains with a more knowledgeable (though less powerful) brujo named Nova to bring her across to the magical world of Los Lagos where she has to navigate treacherous lands and travel to the Labyrinth to rescue her family from the Devourer. Rishi, Alex’s best friend, comes along offering moral support, strength, and strategy even though she is uninitiated in bruja ways thanks to Alex’s reluctance to talk about her family to outsiders.

In a world where many things are uncertain, the love and support of Alex’s friends and family remain unconditional and rock solid throughout this novel where family plays a huge role. Alex is a fantastic protagonist who is empowered both as a bruja and a girl as she learns to embrace all aspects of her identity.

Córdova’s evocative writing brings Los Lagos and its otherworldly inhabitants vividly to life. Moments or peril contrast well with Alex’s witty first person narration and a sometimes tense romance as Alex tries to make sense of her growing feelings for Rishi while fighting for her life.

Labyrinth Lost is a fast-paced and atmospheric story filled with action and adventure. A must-read for urban fantasy fans and readers looking for a new coven of witches to join. (Just be ready with your best Resting Witch Face.)

Possible Pairings: Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst, Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, Nocturna by Maya Motayne, Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar, Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Charmed (TV series)

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*