Rain is in the forecast this week (a rare enough event in these parts that it’s noteworthy), and hopefully it’ll keep the grass green a little longer before everything dies and turns yellow in the summer. This month is an all fiction month :)
The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune
TJ Klune has been my pick of choice for feelgood novels to read during our pandemic times. I've read The House in the Cerulean Sea and Under the Whispering Door, which are both about #RiseAndGrind/#OnTheHustle type corporate lackeys who learn to love life and fall in love in SFF settings. Both of them are very funny and have a lot of heart, so I decided to check out his YA novel The Extraordinaries too. I didn't like it as much as the two previous ones I've read, but that's like saying I don't like the berry pie flavored ice cream Salt and Straw had last summer as much as I like the Sea Salt with Caramel—both are great, but I just vibe with one better. (By the way, I recommend Salt and Straw if any of you are ever on the west coast :D They have new flavors every month!)
Our hero is Nicholas Bell, aka Nick or Nicky, a teenage boy who struggles with ADHD and has written the most popular fanfic in the superhero RPF fandom for Shadow Star, a local vigilante superhero, and has several hundred Tumblr followers for his Shadow Star fan blog. The fake fanfiction sections, which were complete with author's notes and tags, were hilarious. Including them was a nice touch and went well with the story. Nick's beta reader and childhood best friend Seth has been starting to hide things from him recently, and Nick gets pulled in too deep when he decides he also wants to become an Extraordinary, which is what vigilantes are called in this world.
Nick is a relatable, flawed hero whose mega-nerdiness is endearing. His relationship with Seth is well-developed and has a full-fledged romance arc in which you can tell they care about each other a lot even before they're dating, which is a rarity in YA that isn't explicitly billed as romance. (Perhaps I'm just a little too jaded on that front haha.) This is apparently the first book in a series, too! The ending is fairly conclusive, but I can definitely see how Book 2 is being set up. If you enjoy superhero stories and teen heroes, this is the book for you. If not, I recommend TJ Klune's books about salarymen learning to have lives outside of work (what a concept :O).
The Rock Eaters by Brenda Peynado
This short story collection was recommended to me, and Brenda Peynado knocks it out of the park. As usual with short story collections, a good chunk of the stories have been published elsewhere—"The Kite Maker" is available at here. Like most of the stories in The Rock Eaters, The Kite Maker uses its speculative conceit (pacifist dragonfly refugees from a dying alien world end up on Earth) to comment on society today. Peynado is Dominican American, and many of her stories are narrated by first- or second-generation Latina women. The ones that are not narrated by a single person are usually in the first-person-plural POV ("we did X, and then we did Y" as opposed to "I" or "he/she/they"), which has become more popular in the short story world in recent years—another example I can think of is "Superking Son Scores Again" by Anthony Veasna So, which is a hilarious story also about the immigrant experience and available for free here.
Back to Peynado: "The Rock Eaters," which gives us the title of the book, is told by the collective group of first-generation immigrants who literally float away from the Dominican Republic to the US who fly back to their homeland with their children in tow. The children refuse to return to the US when their parents are ready to fly again, and they eat rocks to weigh themselves down. The language she uses makes this story both beautiful and devastating.
If you like your fiction with societal commentary with a dose of the immigrant experience, The Rock Eaters is the book for you.
"I Can See Right Through You" by Kelly Link
For those unfamiliar with Kelly Link, she’s an editor and highly decorated writer who has been honored with every award there is for fantasy writers plus a Pulitzer Prize nomination for Get In Trouble, which is the short story collection “I Can See Right Through You” comes from. She has a way of blending the real with the imagined that keeps my eyes glued to the page or screen to see what will happen next like a rubbernecker looking out for a car crash on the highway.
In my opinion, going in blind is the most fun way of experiencing a Kelly Link story, so don’t read this paragraph if you don’t want any spoilers. “I Can See Right Through You” is about a washed-up actor most famous for playing vampires onscreen reuniting with his ex-girlfriend at a nudist colony in Florida. It only gets weirder from there.
Taylor Tomlinson's new Netflix special Look At You. Taylor Tomlinson strikes again with an incisive and hilarious special. I can't believe she was 25 when she made her first special, Quarter-life Crisis a few years ago.
Space Brothers. My brother and I have been watching this ridiculously wholesome anime together about two brothers that will make you want to chase your childhood dreams and melt away any cynicism. The mangaka of the source manga had help from JAXA (Japanese version of NASA), and it shows. Every aspect of the process of becoming an astronaut is extremely accurate.