Caraval: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Caraval by Stephanie GarberScarlett and her younger sister Tella grew up hearing their grandmother reminisce about visiting Caraval as a young woman. Scarlett writes to Legend every year hoping against hope that he might bring Caraval back to the small island of Trisda in the Conquered Isles.

When tickets to Caraval finally arrive, Scarlett knows she won’t be able to go. Not when being prepared for her upcoming arranged marriage, which can free Tell and herself from their abusive father, is far more pressing. Except impetuous Tella has other plans and recruits a disreputable sailor to help bring Scarlett to the magical show.

Caraval is meant to be a game and a decadent diversion for both players and spectators. But Tella’s disappearance is very real and, Scarlett soon realizes, central to this year’s game.

As Scarlett tries desperately to follow the clues to her sister, the dangers of the supposed show become very real. If she fails to find Tella and win the game, Scarlett risks losing her sister forever in Caraval (2017) by Stephanie Garber.

Caraval is Garber’s debut novel and the first book in a series. The book is written in close third person following Scarlett’s perspective. Although the epilogue promises  twists and adventures in future installments, this novel functions for the most part as a standalone.

Garber’s vibrant descriptions bring the whimsical and dangerous elements of Caraval to life as Scarlett begins to discover the wonders to be found in a place where secrets can become currency and time can be bought and sold.

Scarlett is a cautious and timid heroine for much of Caraval. She has spent years trying to shelter her sister from their father’s calculated abuse and manipulations. Scarlett’s primary concerns are safety and distance from her father. Love, adventure, and all of the things Tella craves feel secondary if not entirely superfluous in comparison.

Caraval features a varied array of characters and some romance but this novel remains surprisingly introspective in its focus on Scarlett’s own journey toward autonomy and agency. A few predictable twists and some unexpected turns serve as a strong backdrop for Scarlett’s growth as she realizes she is the victim of her father’s abuse, not the cause. As Scarlett moves deeper into the machinations of Caraval she begins to correct her earlier mistakes both in the game and in her own life while learning to trust her instincts.

Caraval is a thrilling and evocative fantasy sure to appeal to readers who enjoy stories imbued with magic and adventure. Intricate world building and the circus-like atmosphere of Caraval lend this novel an extra bit of flair that even Legend would admire.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

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

If I Was Your Girl: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You can have anything once you admit you deserve it.”

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith RussoAmanda Hardy is new to Lambertville, Tennessee and nervous about starting at a new school for her senior year. She isn’t sure what to expect when she moves in with her father who she hasn’t seen in a few years. She isn’t sure if this town will be any kinder to her than the hometown she had to leave. All she wants to do is blend in and avoid getting too close to anyone. She’s used to being an outsider so it should be simple.

Grant Everett sorely tests Amanda’s resolve. He is funny, kind, and no one Amanda ever thought she could be with. Getting closer to Grant makes Amanda feel safe and known. So much so that shea wonders if it might be time to let Grant see all of her–including the secrets from her past.

But she has no idea if Grant will be able to see her as the girl he’s gotten to know when he finds out that Amanda used to be Andrew in If I Was Your Girl (2016) by Meredith Russo.

If I Was Your Girl is Russo’s first novel. It’s also important to mention that she is a transgender woman. An author’s note at the back of the book addresses some of her creative choices and provides further resources and support for trans teens.

This book is a really powerful and important story. Amanda is an empathetic heroine with a narrative voice that is immediately engaging and approachable. More importantly, this is not an issue-driven book. Instead, If I Was Your Girl is a sweet, introspective, and romantic story about a girl who happens to be transgender.

Everyone in If I Was Your Girl has a secret whether it’s something they’re hiding for their own protection or just because they’re embarrassed. These secrets include sexual orientation and a character who is hiding his mother’s health problems and his family’s low income status. The way these secrets unfold and play out in the narrative add another dimension to the story as Amanda and her friends learn about what it means–and what it can cost–to reveal your deepest truths to someone new.

Parts of the plot meander and even drag. Amanda’s adjustment to her new school is contrasted throughout the novel with flashbacks to her distant and recent past including moments when she was bullied, her decision to transition, and a heart-wrenching suicide attempt.

Russo presents Amanda’s story with tenderness and care. In addition to featuring a strong, transgender girl at its heart, this story also surrounds Amanda with support. Her life still isn’t easy–there are obstacles and hateful, scary moments. But throughout the story, Amanda also has her mother cheering her on and begins to rebuild her relationship with her estranged father. She finds friends who trust and accept her and a boy who cares deeply about her. If I Was Your Girl is a hopeful and uplifting story where Amanda works to become the person she’s always wanted to be.

Possible Pairings: Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, How to Be Brave by E. Katherine Kottaras, In Real Life by Jessica Love, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales