Book Review – Skyward

Cover image for SkywardSkyward

by Brandon Sanderson

Young Adult

Spensa has known all her life that she wants to be a starfighter pilot for the Defiant Defense Force, protecting her people from the deadly and mysterious aliens called the Krell. She wants nothing more than to be in the sky, proving her courage, and maybe even getting a glimpse of the stars. But her father was a coward who fled from combat, and the Defiant Defense Force is reluctant to let the daughter of a coward join their ranks. Spensa will have to use all her courage, determination, and skill to protect her planet, restore her family’s honor, and maybe, just maybe, turn the tide of the war.

If you asked me to find you an example of everything Young Adult fiction should be, I’d point you to this book. It’s like the heart and soul of YA: a book that balances the coolness and likable characters of middle grade fiction with the high stakes of adult fiction, while also having the particular brand of defiance, and that spark of humor, that makes YA special:

“You watch yourself,” I said, wishing I had something to stand on to bring my eyes on level with his. “When you are broken and mourning your fall from grace, I will consume your shadow in my own, and laugh at your misery.”

This quote brings me to the main reason I loved this book: Spensa herself. She’s a treasure, and one of my favorite protagonists I’ve ever read. She works well with others (most of the time, anyway), tries to protect everyone, and also has a slight tendency to deliver ridiculous threats with a completely straight face. I also appreciated that although she seemed to be developing an interest in one of the other main characters, she didn’t have any romantic subplot in this book. Instead, she focused on staving off the alien invasion, which is what any good main character should do first.

And Spensa isn’t the only lovable character here. From her wise grandmother who tells her stories of great heroes, to the cadet who objects to the current militaristic system of government, to the brave admiral who would do anything to protect the last stronghold of humanity, virtually every character is interesting and sympathetic. Also, a lot of them are female, so that’s doubly cool.

Fair warning though, some characters do die in this book. Their deaths were handled with appropriate gravity, and I found myself missing them for some time afterward. It wasn’t like The Hunger Games, where pretty much everyone dies (that might have been a spoiler in 2011, but I don’t think it counts as a spoiler in 2019), but it still makes the story sadder, and the stakes more real.

Despite the tragedy though, Skyward was (like I mentioned earlier) also a lot of fun. Brandon Sanderson says this is an “A Girl and Her Starfighter” story, in the same vein as the “A Boy and His Dragon” genre. Which it is! Spensa befriends a cool AI starfighter, who is everything you could want an AI starfighter to be. But even before that, the descriptions of the aerial battles in regular starfighters are exhilarating, carefully described and imagined. It’s clear just how much Spensa loves flying, and even with all the dangers fighting aliens entails, it’s easy to feel the excitement too.

I highly recommend that you read Skyward. It’s brilliant.

Very small footnote:
One thing to keep in mind before diving into this wonderful, wonderful story, however: it’s scheduled to be a four book series, and only the first one is out right now. Thankfully this book doesn’t end on a major cliffhanger, but still, waiting for the next one is going to be tough. So if you read Skyward now, be prepared for the frustration of waiting for the sequel!

– Reviewed by Amri Valencia


Book Review – Wicked Nix

Wicked Nix by Lena Coakley


by Lena Coakley, illustrated by Jaime Zollars
Listed age range – 8-12

Wicked Nix is a fairy. The Foulest of the Fairies, in fact. When the other fairies leave the forest to return to the Summer Kingdom, he takes on the task of guarding the forest from intruders. But his task becomes much more difficult when a human man decides to brave the curses of the fairies and move into a long-abandoned cabin in the woods.

But maybe with the help of a wise young girl named Rose, and Mr. Green, whose face is in the leaves and branches and whose voice is the sound of nature itself, Nix will be able to make things right in the forest again.

This book is beautiful, mysterious, and heartwarming, and I’m so glad I read it! The story is best when you don’t know exactly how it’s going to turn out, so I’ll try to avoid revealing much about the plot, while still giving you some idea as to what the story is about.

The fairies in this book are less like the ones in Disney movies, and more like the ones found in old-school fairy tales. They’re strange, unpredictable, and not always kind. But Nix himself is a lot less wicked than his name suggests. His voice as a narrator is youthful, full of wonder for the natural world, and his actions are more often kind than wicked:

I stop short, almost falling. A spiderweb stretches across the path, sparkling with dew. I go around, careful not to break the spider’s pretty work, and start to run again. (Page 3)

I also want to mention that the art in this book is lovely! The chapter headings are decorated with branches, items from Nix’s collection of things, or animals from the forest. There are several full-page illustrations as well, featuring characters from the story. And the cover itself is whimsical and mysterious, capturing the tone of the story itself. I’ve taken several art classes over the years, and I have a lot of respect for the illustrator of this book.

Wicked Nix is written for a middle grade audience, and adults can definitely enjoy it too.

Now that I’m done writing this review, I’m going to pester my mom (you know her as Jane Valencia) to read Wicked Nix, because I have a feeling she’ll love it as much as I do.

– Reviewed by Amri Valencia

Book Reviews Coming Soon!

I just spent a fabulous couple of days at the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting, held this year in Seattle. I met editors, authors, book reviewers, bloggers, and publishing and distribution representatives. I review books from time to time, and that part of me has opened its dragon eyes and declared, Great books are still being published. We need to get them into the hands of families!

Some of the enticing books I brought home from ALA.

I came home with numerous books and graphic novels I’m eager to share with y’all. I specifically sought middle grade magical fiction and nature-connected fiction, however I found myself ranging into both picture books and young adult, and my dragon heart urged me to pick up titles related to diversity, social justice, and bettering our world.

Storytelling and losing oneself in story is integral to how we humans relate to one another and make sense of our lives and world. You can read more about my thoughts about books as magical doors and reading books to kids here. Books were my companions as a child. Children’s fantasy in particular fueled my imagination to live the kind of magical life I read about. Animal fiction (such as Bambi, A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten, and Jean Craighead George’s many animal novels) fed me — a suburban child — with experiences of forest life, of what it might be like to be the deer, or the fox, or the prairie dog.

I’m passionate about storytelling — hearing the story, experiencing the movement and expression of the teller — and I find reading a story to hold its own wonder. I find a book to indeed be a spell book of sorts, the markings on the pages lifting off to weave worlds in our hearts.

I look forward to sharing some exciting books with you in the coming weeks!

A stack of picture books and a poetry/recipe book from ALA.