Two YA books and a monster tale, because…well, why not? Although of them do deal with societal taboos in their own way.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee…A solid start to a new series of period-set YA adventure books following a bisexual British Lord (threatened to be cut-off by his father) on his “Grand tour” of Europe, his sister, and bi-racial best friend Percy, who’s also his crush. Monty is an engaging protagonist, the set pieces—which include pirate attacks and treasure hunts—always end in unexpected places, and plenty of readers will love the unique setting, detailed period descriptions of European hot spots, and humor. This book is not really my thing, but there’s no denying that its target audience will love it (the audience reviews on Good Reads are euphoric). Grade: B+
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry…An unhappily married London widow retreats to the seaside for some rest and reflection, but is soon intrigued by reports of a monstrous black sea monster swallowing up townsfolk. She’s soon joined by a skeptical local vicar, and the book wants to be many things: forbidden romance, compelling creature adventure, slowly unspooling period mystery, and especially a tug-of-war between romantic ideals and stark religious teachings, but I wasn’t totally moved by any of it. And the ending is more than anticlimactic. Grade: C+
Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali…An illuminating look behind the hijab as this YA novel follows a Muslim girl that’s been secretly sexually assaulted by a Muslim golden-boy who’s revered in the community, and struggles to deal with it. The novels best sections explore how those that want to “protect” women usually wind up oppressing them (the heroine’s clueless brother invites her molester on outings and tries to set them up under the notion that she should be with a good Muslim boy), but the novel—like its protagonist—is just a little too shy and polite for its own good. It’s really a realistic slice-of-life dramedy that may begin to feel tedious as it keeps going. [And the fact that Good Reads readers were shocked—s-h-o-c-k-e-d—and appalled that the protagonist let a non-Muslim boy see her uncovered hair might tell you what kind-of reader will be drawn to this book. It’s also not encouraging that our heroine seems to believe even a high school romance with a non-Muslim boy is hopeless.] Grade: B