Sovereign (Nemesis #2) – Reflection: Anger

3161095736_042f71a9d7_z
Photo credit: 2 : 😡 | Amy McTigue | CC 2.0

In Dreadnought, Danny had a decent amount of anger and talked about how she enjoyed being a superhero, but it isn’t until Sovereign that we see how much she relishes beating people up. It also becomes clear she has serious anger issues, which are now amplified since she has substantial powers. We gain a lot of insight into Danny in Sovereign and I really struggled with these internal monologues about loving violence. They unsettled me. They still do. Of course I could talk about whether a person with superpowers is a superhero if they love the violence, but that’s not really what unsettled me. What unsettled me was questions about how accurate of a depiction this is of humanity, particularly for people with anger issues.

We all know that there is a certain kind of person that relishes violence; those people are sadists. But Danny is not a sadist or at least I do not get that impression. Instead, Danny is depicted as someone who has trouble reigning in her rage and anger once she unleashes it. She regularly taps into that rage in order to win in battle, but it comes at a cost. It costs Danny her compassion and empathy. She is unable to see situations from the other person’s side and thus misses opportunities to resolve issues without violence. Unfortunately, for most of the book, Danny is okay with this as she fails to see how her anger impacts those around her.

All this left me wondering how accurate a depiction this is. There was a time in my life when I struggled with anger issues. Would I have relished power if I had been given it? Would I have relished violence if I was strong enough to bring it? Was my anger blinding me to compassion and empathy for others? How much did I miss out on when I was a ball of anger?

I do not quite understand why Danny’s discussions of how she deals with her ball of rage bothered me so much. It has greatly delayed the writing of this reflection because I just do not understand why that thread impacted me so much. What is it about Danny’s honesty about her anger that troubles me so? I am pretty sure I am just not ready to explore that yet. If I would relish power, I do not want to know that. If I would enjoy the violence a bit too much, I don’t want to face what that means about who I am.

But I suspect my hesitation to explore what Sovereign raised in me has more to do with where that anger comes from than whether I would follow in Danny’s footsteps. Reading the scene where she uses less force against a villain so she can battle him longer really did not sit well with me and I am confident I would not engage in the same behavior. For me, it is simply unacceptable to beat up someone with less defenses for as long as possible. This is partly why I dislike the whole superhero genre because I abhor violence. I am turned off by it and for that reason, do not enjoy many sports. In the end, I feel comfortable saying that if I became a superhero, I would use violence sparingly. But still, tapping into that rage is dangerous. It does blind one to much of the world around oneself. I am no stranger to tapping into that rage in order to power through; in order to pull myself up the ladder of success. It was not until I read Sovereign that I saw more clearly the cost of tapping into that rage. I do not like what I saw and it means I need to change, but I am not sure I am ready. Though are we ever?

Both Dreadnought and Sovereign have forced me to look at myself in ways I was not ready to. Both books have shown me the folly of my life choices and both have made it hard to continue down my current path. That is an incredible feat for any book, but for it to have come from a YA superhero novel, I am floored. This series has inspired me to continue to read outside my typical genre as it is clear to me that there are many life-changing books out there hiding in genres I tend to avoid. And that’s a lesson from this series I’m ready to embrace right now.

Sovereign (Nemesis #2) – Review: ARC

sovereignSovereign (Nemesis #2) by April Daniels – 4/ 5 stars

This book delivered! If you read my reflection last Wednesday, you know I was worried Sovereign would not keep me engaged, with my not liking superhero books and all. The book started slow for me and I had a hard time getting into as I wasn’t interested in the superhero conference or some of the other events early in the book, but as the book progressed, it hit on some tough issues in the same fun way Dreadnought tackled other issues.

Sovereign is the second book in the Nemesis series. It picks up several months after Dreadnought, which is nice as that book ended with a decent amount of chaos and I was happy the first part of Sovereign didn’t try to resolve all of it. Instead, much of it has been resolved in the months between the two books. Instead, the book starts with a superhero conference and an introduction to a few new characters, including Kinetiq, a nonbinary Iranian-American superhero, and Cecilia, Dreadnought’s publicist and lawyer. It was nice to have new characters, though I would have liked Kinetiq be more developed and play a greater role in the novel.

We see a different side of Danny as she has come into her new role and it’s a side I had a hard time reading, but it’s also a point of growth and I welcomed the honesty and vulnerability of that side of Danny. This book surprised me with its depth, particularly because in the beginning it did not feel like there was going to be much depth. For me, the build up to the heart of the story was slow, but once I ended up there, it was action packed and full of incredible depth. I’m incredibly excited to see where the next book in the series takes us.

I could talk about this book forever, and I certainly have to anyone who has decided to ask me what I am reading, but I do not want to give away too much of the plot and ruin Dreadnought for those of you who have not yet read the first book in the series. Know that this book is still on the cutting edge of diversity and intersectionality and that everything from book one is wrapped up by the end of this book.

My biggest complaint with this book, besides how slow the beginning is, is one particular aspect of how the book ended. Danny and Doc make a unilateral decision about something that ideally should be left up to a much broader public and do so by essentially stealing control over a system. Maybe this makes sense in the context of the world of superheroes, at least the gaining control over supervillain property, but it was not explained as such. Assuming that the collateral gain is standard for superheroes, I was still greatly bothered by the unilateral decision and greatly worry about the consequences said decision will have on the future of the world. But, to be fair, it also makes me want to read the next book in the series to learn whether I am correct in my apprehension about this decision.

Again, like Dreadnought this story has more than just superhero action scenes, making it a wonderful book for anyone who enjoys significant character development and insight. Like Dreadnought, this book caused me to look within myself and reflect on myself as well as caused me to look outside myself and reflect on the world around me. I am still amazed at how incredible April Daniels is as a writer and I expect great things from her in the future. I strongly encourage everyone to give this series a shot as you will not be disappointed. We need more writing like this, so please, support this writer!

I received this ebook free from Netgalley and publisher Diversion Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

 

Considering reading it? Check out a free Kindle preview! Please note that Diversifying Perspective is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to free Kindle previews through Amazon.com. This does not impact the selection of books nor the content of reviews.

Dreadnought – Reflection: Inner Voice

3685379062_499fbcac69_zSpoiler alert: there is a small spoiler in this review, though it is something that one learns very early on in the book

Trigger warning: verbal and emotional abuse

I’ve been avoiding writing this post. I keep pretending it’s because I don’t know what to say about this book, but really, it’s just that I will have to be really vulnerable in this post if I want to be authentic and true to how this book impacted me. It’s not that I haven’t been vulnerable before on this blog, but I haven’t been this vulnerable before and vulnerability is something I’m not very comfortable with. It’s why I’ve read so much of Brené Brown’s work. I know I need to learn to be more comfortable with vulnerability, but it is really, really hard for me.

But back to Dreadnought and the reflection at hand. This book tore me open, and not exactly in the way I’m okay with being torn open. This book made me take a hard, long look at myself. Too hard of a look, honestly, to the point where I almost wanted to bail on the book, not because of the book, but because I did not want to have to face myself. What was Dreadnought causing me to confront? My inner voice.

In Dreadnought, (sort of spoiler alert, but you discover this pretty early in the book) Danny’s dad is emotionally and verbally abusive. It was uncomfortable for me to read as a survivor of verbal and emotional abuse myself, but it wasn’t very difficult for me to get through. The aspect that was incredibly challenging was how well Daniels depicts Danny’s inner voice, which is the internalized version of this emotional and verbal abuse. The internationalization of the abuse is the crux of why it is so debilitating and damaging; at some point, the things other people say become the things the victim tells herself, making it impossible to differentiate between the abuser’s voice and the victim’s. For Danny, her internalized voice calls herself “stupid,” a lot, and in very harsh ways – or more precisely, at times when she is not being stupid at all. She doubts herself, even though she has superpowers that make her practically invisible. In moments when she needs to act, she hesitates because she does not trust her decision-making abilities and is afraid of making the wrong decision. But that hesitation becomes the wrong decision. It was painful to read. I wanted to scream at her to just trust herself, but at the same time, if I did that, then I would have to do that with myself as well.

My inner voice is pretty cruel at times and it has caused me to be so afraid of making a decision, that I do not make one. Which, I have learned over time, is still making a decision. It feels like it isn’t, but really, the decision to not decide is a decision. It is an awful one that leaves the decider with a bad decision (really, probably the only clear bad decisions are the lack of decisions) that fuels that cruel inner voice, and the decider is further ensnared in the inability to decide. It is a debilitating feedback loop that leaves the abuse victim ineffectual in their day to day lives. These are all things I know on an academic level and thus, at this level I know I should talk back to this cruel inner voice and override it. But knowing something on an academic level is different than truly seeing it in action. After reading Dreadnought, I have seen it in action and I am left having to confront whether I can continue on letting this cruel voice have a platform in my head. I suspect I cannot.

While I do not exactly enjoy the internal struggle this book has caused, it is what I love about books. I love how books touch me in deep, meaningful, and impactful ways, even when I’m reading a YA superhero novel. It’s these moments that keep me coming back to books over and over, constantly searching for another one of these such moments.

This is also why I greatly enjoy reading books written by authors with different backgrounds than myself, because it is powerful to see one’s own experience reflected in someone that is different from oneself. One of the best ways to ground us, pull back to humanity, and remind us that there is something bigger than us that matters so much more than the small stuff, is seeing ourselves reflected in others and knowing we are not alone. As Brene Brown discusses in her various books, in those moments when someone opens up to you and shares an experience (quite possibly a shaming experience) that you haven’t experienced, it is easy to say, “oh, I can’t relate to this,” but the reality is, yes you can. Maybe you or I don’t know exactly what it is like to be a transgender teen, but you or I might know what it is like to be an abused teen hiding part of herself from the rest of the world or frankly, any person that has felt compelled to hide a huge part of themselves from the world. We are more alike than different and books remind us of that. I thank April Daniels and Diversion Books for reminding me of that once again.

Photo credit: h.koppdelaney / Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Dreadnought – Reflection: The Sequel

sovereignAs I mentioned in my review on Monday, the magic of Dreadnought is how well it dives into how Danny and society cope with her becoming a superhero and transforming into an anatomical female. For me, that’s what made the story great as I love being transported into other people’s lives and gaining new perspectives. But can a sequel keep readers like me engaged; readers who love depth and introspection, but don’t care for superheroes? Is it possible to move the series forward without reducing Danny to a transgender superhero, especially while trying to keep readers like me engaged?

This is a pertinent question as yesterday, July 25th, Sovereign (Nemesis #2) by April Daniels was released. I have been excited for this sequel for quite awhile now – so much so that I requested, and received, the ARC and then read Dreadnought. Yes, you read that correctly – I read the description of Sovereign and decided the story sounded amazing enough for me to read the first in the series to then be able to read the second before its release. I’ve never done that before, and it’s probably not the smartest way to go about deciding what to read next, but I am happy I did because I read Dreadnought and it was wonderful.

Back to the question at hand; how does a book that focuses so much on how the protagonist comes to terms with drastic changes keep engaged the readers who are excited for the sequel solely because of that focus? I’m not a writer and I’m glad I do not have to answer that question. As for how it plays out in this series, I haven’t finished the reading the sequel at the time of writing this (though I will have by the time it posts) so I cannot fully comment, but I will say that so far, I do not think this will be a series I will stick with.

Which is unfortunate as there are other deep topics that could be covered. To be fair, in the sequel, there is discussion around challenging topics such as transgender superhero visibility. Unfortunately, most of the book has focused on a superhero challenge around the nemesis, which will likely make superhero fans happy, but has left me mostly uninterested. I very much hope that changes as I want this series to succeed and I fear it will not if it only resonates with superhero fans, but I respectfully imagine the challenges faced in writing a sequel. This sequel is faced with the great enormity of coming after such a vulnerable #ownvoices story where the author likely bared her soul and quite justifiably might not want the entire series to be focused on hard, vulnerable, and challenging stories. After all, Danny is more than a transgender superhero and the series needs to be about more than just that one aspect of her. It’s just that for readers who are not superhero fans, it maybe hard for us to stay engaged if it isn’t, which bothers me. As a lesbian, I am constantly frustrated by stories that focus exclusively on the character(s) sexuality as if that’s all there is to someone who is attracted to the same sex. Danny deserves to be more than a transgender superhero, but in some ways, that is all I want her to be. I want to justify that by saying, oh, but I do not like the superhero genre so that’s why I want to focus on transgender issues and intersectionality. While there is truth in that statement, there is a piece of me that is just not yet able to go beyond that. Which is a me problem and not a problem with the sequel. While it is hard to face, this series has shown me I still have growth to do around transgender identity. For that, I am grateful.

Dreadnought (Nemisis #1) – Review

Dreadnought CoverDreadnought (Nemisis #1) by April Daniels – 4/ 5 stars

April Daniels’s debut novel transports the reader into the life of a transgender teenager with incredible depth and humanity. If you have ever wondered what it is like to be a transgender teen, you need to read this book.

Danny (aka Daniel/ Danielle) is a transgender teen hiding her identity when a superhero dies right in front of her. As he is dying, he, Dreadnought, hands over his powers to Danny. When she receives the powers, she is transformed from an anatomical male to a female. Suffice it to say that this transformation causes all sorts of issues and the rest of the book is spent trying to address these issues.

The heart of this book is how Danny deals with her body transformation as well has how others react to her. There are some reactions that are hard to stomach, but very true to life. Here is where I really gained the insight into what it is to live in a transgender body and interact with the world. It is a constant challenge and struggle. But there are other struggles as well, like sexism and adjusting to powers. Watching Danny deal with these challenges are what made this book so hard for me to put down.

Which leads to an important point – I normally dislike the superhero genre. I was not excited by the superhero battles nor am I a fan girl, though Danny is. I deeply enjoyed this book because it was about so much more than superheroes. It is about the struggles of finding oneself and overcoming challenging circumstances. The superhero idea is simply a vehicle to share that experience and I loved every minute of it.

Well, maybe not every minute because there are some challenging topics in this book. Trigger warnings are necessary for verbal and emotional abuse (by others and towards herself), hate speech, and violence. For a book about a transgender person, there is little mention of body dysmorphia, which is likely because Danny is only in the male body for the first several pages, thus no trigger warning. There are other brief teenage situations which could be triggering, such as around eating disorders. But for the most part, the hardest part of this book to read is the abuse and hate speech and it is entirely because those moments are so authentic. This is an #ownvoices story and those moments are not sugar-coated, which is exactly how they need to be presented.

Overall, this was a fantastic book I recommend to superhero lovers as well as people who love to be transported into someone else’s life. But please do heed the trigger warnings as those moments can be pretty intense. I appreciated that other characters, including superheros were diverse, though race was a minor theme of the book. My biggest complaint with the book was the ending. It seemed like a typical superhero ending with several unbelievable moments. It wraps up well enough that it can stand alone without having to read the next in the series. But I will read the next book as I am curious to see how Danny comes into her own.

Considering reading it? Check out a free Kindle preview! Please note that Diversifying Perspective is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to free Kindle previews through Amazon.com. This does not impact the selection of books nor the content of reviews.

Juliet Takes a Breath – Review: ARC

Juliet Takes a Breath CoverJuliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera – 4/ 5 stars 
An intersectional debut novel about a queer Puerto Rican woman living in the Bronx who travels to Portland for an internship with a white Lesbian author for the summer. This book is part coming of age story and part navigating intersectionality and part coping with life. It covers difficult and challenging topics with a light touch, making them a part of everyday conversation. It is this light and gentle touch that makes this book so powerful and why everyone needs to read it right now.

Juliet reads a book by a white Lesbian feminist which feels as though it lacks intersectionality. The book is a bit #solidarityisforwhitewomen. So Juliet writes a letter to the author and asks for an internship to address this gap. She is offered the internship, so Juliet comes out to her family, then immediately boards a plane, and leaves the Bronx for Portland. Thus starts the novel, Juliet Takes a Breath. This book has a bit of it all from the very beginning.

Juliet is confronted with challenging topics from page one. From how to make feminism more inclusive to safe spaces for people of color and the queer community to traditional family values to Latina and specifically Puerto Rican history to letting others speak for you, this book moves fluidly from one issue to another, never diving too deep into one nor proclaiming to know all the answers. This is the genius of Juliet Takes a Breath. Most books are too heavy handed when addressing these topics and thus shut down the discussion and/ or reflection before it can happen. But instead, all the characters are flawed in some way and need others around them to have open, honest, and vulnerable conversations about these flaws. It is these conversations that allow the reader to honestly reflect on themselves and see whether any of these topics ring true for them. I know they did for me.

This is the type of coming of age story everyone needs, not just queer Latinas, because it addresses so many various topics while also being accessible to people of all different backgrounds. The concepts are discussed and defined for readers who may be less familiar with the vocabulary. Then relevant and current issues are discussed in ways which do not shame but instead allow for honest reflection on not only the role of others but also our role. It is more and more challenging to navigate the world as there is more awareness around diversity and many of us do not know how to negotiate these conversations or situations. We need more stories like this to help us start those challenging conversations and move closer to an inclusive society. We all need a Juliet in our lives.

This was one of the hardest books I have reviewed because it was so different from anything else I have come across. Over and over, I was finding moments I could relate to – very vulnerable moments, some of which I have not fully healed from. I needed this book, even now, as a grown woman who does not feel like she is coming of age. So, I want to do it justice. I need to do it justice. But I simply do not know how to do it justice. I do not have the language nor other works of fiction I can point to. This book is brilliantly unique and it is that because it is an #ownvoices story. Yet, there is absolutely something relatable in this story, even if you do not feel you fit into any of the categories – queer, Latina, etc. – and it is absolutely accessible, and a quick, easy read, so it needs to move to the top of your to-be-read list now!

While the story was fantastic, I would have liked to see stronger editing as the copy I received had some grammatical errors and was sometimes too vocab heavy. I also would have liked to see a bit more literary depth, though it is more challenging for first person narratives to be more descriptive and literary over direct. I also would have liked just a bit more discussion on some of these topics. Most of them are not discussed in quite enough detail to provide meaningful growth for the reader, but there is a delicate balance between saying too much and not enough. Overall, this is an excellent novel and I am excited to see what Gabby Rivera writes next!

Considering reading it? Check out a free Kindle preview! Please note that Diversifying Perspective is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to free Kindle previews through Amazon.com. This does not impact the selection of books nor the content of reviews.

*I received this book free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review