A monthly series where I talk about the books I read that month. (Previous part here)
1- I’ll Be The One by Lyla Lee
Skye Shin has heard it all. Fat girls shouldn’t dance. Wear bright colors. Shouldn’t call attention to themselves. But Skye dreams of joining the glittering world of K-Pop, and to do that, she’s about to break all the rules that society, the media, and even her own mother, have set for girls like her.
She’ll challenge thousands of other performers in an internationally televised competition looking for the next K-pop star, and she’ll do it better than anyone else.
When Skye nails her audition, she’s immediately swept into a whirlwind of countless practices, shocking performances, and the drama that comes with reality TV. What she doesn’t count on are the highly fat-phobic beauty standards of the Korean pop entertainment industry, her sudden media fame and scrutiny, or the sparks that soon fly with her fellow competitor, Henry Cho.
But Skye has her sights on becoming the world’s first plus-sized K-pop star, and that means winning the competition—without losing herself.
This one was a super-adorable YA contemporary with almost everything going for it. It has a protagonist who is ambitious, confident, talented, queer and comfortable in her own skin despite all the fat-shaming she had to deal with. It also lets the reader delve into the cut-throat competition in the world of K-Pop, and how sometimes the way one looks can come in the way of their talent. I also loved how not just our heroine, but every main character was queer. Representation!
2- Milk Teeth by Amrita Mahale
Childhood allies Ira Kamat and Kartik Kini meet on the terrace of their building in Matunga, Mumbai. A meeting is in progress to decide the fate of the establishment and its residents. And the zeitgeist of the 1990s appears to have touched everyone and everything around them.
Ira is now a journalist on the civic beat, unearthing stories of corruption and indolence, and trying to push back memories of a lost love. Kartik works a corporate job with an MNC, and leads a secret, agonising, exhilarating second life. Between and around them throbs the living, beating heart of Mumbai, city of heaving inequities and limitless dreams.
This was one of those parts-greater-than-the-whole kinda book. The book primarily narrates the tale of three characters – Ira, Kartik and the city of Mumbai itself, however Kartik’s arc isn’t as well-explored as the other two. I loved of many of the poignant observations this book makes about Mumbai, class, communalism, gender roles and so on. I only wish the narrative had been tighter and more gripping.
3- Unrequited by Emma Grey
Seventeen-year-old Kat Hartland loathes Unrequited, the world’s biggest boy band. She’s 100 per cent immune to ‘perfect’ singer Angus Marsden and his unfailingly predictable lyrics. Show her the anti-fan club… she wants to be its president!
Just give her a proper musician. Or maybe the seriously hot med student who rescued her on the train. Ideal formal partner, right? Ideal everything…
But when Kat comes face to face with Angus Marsden himself, things start to get complicated. Throw in a deranged female singer, an enraged fandom, final exams, a part in a musical and a mum who just doesn’t get it—and where is her best friend?
When did life get so crazy? Kat’s just an ordinary schoolgirl.
This book read like it was written by someone who was trying too hard to sound young and hip. Every emotion is exaggerated with a multitude of exclamation marks to the point that you are worn out by the time you finish half the book. In trying to capture that heady rush of first love, the book ended up infantilizing everything and everyone.
4- Radio Silence by Alice Oseman
What if everything you set yourself up to be was wrong?
Frances has been a study machine with one goal. Nothing will stand in her way; not friends, not a guilty secret – not even the person she is on the inside. Then Frances meets Aled, and for the first time she’s unafraid to be herself.
So when the fragile trust between them is broken, Frances is caught between who she was and who she longs to be. Now Frances knows that she has to confront her past. To confess why Carys disappeared…
Frances is going to need every bit of courage she has.
This was a book that got me both crying and laughing. It deals with a lot of very real issues most adolescents struggle with – academic pressure, identity, sexual orientation, the desire to ‘fit in’ and darker topics like mental health and abuse . I also loved how here too, every main character is queer. And the best part? The two main characters share a perfectly platonic relationship, with no romance thrown in for the sake of it.
5- A Matter of Time by Shashi Deshpande
One morning, with no warning, Gopal — respected professor, devoted husband, and caring father — walks out on his family for reasons even he cannot articulate. His wife, Sumi, returns with their three daughters to the shelter of the Big House where her parents, Kalyani and Shripati, live in oppressive silence: they have not spoken to each other in thirty-five years. As the mystery of this long silence is unraveled, a horrifying story of suffering and loss is laid bare, a story that seems to be repeating itself in Sumi’s life.Set in present day Karnataka, A Matter of Time explores the intricate relationships within an extended family encompassing three generations. Images from Hindu religion, myth, and local history twine delicately with images of contemporary India as this family faces and accepts the changes that have suddenly become part of their lives. As their secrets and strengths are revealed, so are the complications of family and culture. This multigenerational story, told in the individual voices of the characters, catches each in turn in the cycles of love, loss, strength, and renewal that become an essential part of their identities.
This was a rather meditative read, where the characters and their ideologies take precedence over the plot. I loved the multigenerational style the novel adopts, as it allows us to understand how a person’s personality is shaped by the past. It is also a primarily a female narrative, with the focus largely belonging to Kalyani, Sumi and Aru – three women who are so different, yet so similar to each other. I only wish it hadn’t ended as abruptly as it did, with a couple of deaths coming so randomly and unexpectedly at us. Or maybe that was intentional? An attempt to show just how random and cruel life can be sometimes?
6- Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake
Mara and Owen are about as close as twins can get. So when Mara’s friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn’t know what to think. Can the brother she loves really be guilty of such a violent crime? Torn between the family she loves and her own sense of right and wrong, Mara is feeling lost, and it doesn’t help that things have been strained with her ex-girlfriend and best friend since childhood, Charlie.
As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie navigate this new terrain, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits in her future. With sensitivity and openness, this timely novel confronts the difficult questions surrounding consent, victim blaming, and sexual assault.
This book was my favorite read from last year, which is why I felt compelled to give it a reread. And I am glad to report that it still holds up on the second read. It still made my heart twist in pain and had me sobbing at multiple points. A beautifully told tale that deals with several important themes like consent, sexual identity, rape, the way the society looks at rape, victim-blaming, feminism etc. A highly recommended read. And here too, two of our main characters are queer.