The Wicker King by K. Ancrum

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“Would you do something bad if you knew it would have more good in it, in the end, than bad?”

Okay, I just want to start this review off that this book will forever be sentimental to me, not only because it was the first book I read this year and that I absolutely loved it, but also because it was the very first pick for the Dragons & Tea Book Club and the author came into the group and answered so many questions that made this one of the best reading experiences I’ve ever had in my entire life. This book will just always have a special place in my heart now.

It all starts with seeing two boys breaking into a toy factory, which lands them in an asylum in 2003, and we get to see a dark and intense unfolding of what lead them to this action. We get to see their love for each other and the devotion they both have for one another. This story is told with a lot of multimedia elements that really helps make it feel even more real, and when the story gets darker the pages also become darker, which completely takes the story to another level in my opinion.

But The Wicker King essentially is a story about two high school boys from Michigan, who are both being extremely neglected in very different ways, and they find what they are missing within each other. We get to see August, and his perspective, as Jack starts to get hallucinations and is able to see a dark fantasy world on top of and coexisting with our world. August does everything to try to help Jack and get him to only see our reality, but August is also struggling with his mental health and isn’t heeding the advice of those around him to get help. To August, only Jack makes things better, and to Jack, August is the only one who can ground him.

“The world was so big and they were very small and there was no one around to stop terrible things from happening.”

I’m not going to say Jack and August’s relationship is the healthiest, but it is so realistic and so what both of them needed so desperately in a world that made them feel alone. I ugly cried throughout most of this book partly because I wanted to help them both so badly and also because their intertwining spirals were so realistic and so heartbreaking.

“It was the debt. The river. It was his religion now.”

I also cried a lot because the side character, Rina, was so pure and helped ground these two lost boys so much. She gave them a safe place, she gave them solace, and she gave them unconditional love. She truly was the shining star of this book for me and my love grew for her right alongside these two boys.

I loved the mental health depictions in this book, and you can tell the care that the author took while writing this story. I also loved how queer this story is, and it makes me giggle that some people needed to be told that Jack and August had feelings for each other in the finished copy, because this entire book is a love letter to these two boys loving each other. Also, in terms of diversity besides sexuality and mental health, Rina is a person of color.

Overall, I just loved this book more than words. Being in August’s mind is an experience that I will never forget and that I will keep locked in my heart for all time. I cannot wait to start The Weight of the Stars next month, especially since K. Ancrum confirmed a glimpse at a polyamorous relationship that I guarantee is going to add five years onto my life. Lastly, this book has the best dedication and author’s note I’ve ever read in my entire life (and I’ve read a lot of books)!

“If you drop the weight you are carrying, it is okay. You can build yourself back up out of the pieces.”

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Content and trigger warnings for severe neglect, abandonment, panic attacks, depression depictions, underage drinking, and ableist speech.

This was the first pick in me and Amy‘s book club for 2019: Dragons and Tea Book Club!

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

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“You found me in a constellation.”

Friends, I loved this story. And if the ending was a little different, this would have been such an easy five star read. I love books centered on creators on the internet. While reading this, I was constantly reminded of one my favorite books of all time, Radio Silence by Alice Oseman. Which, I’m not really sure if here is any higher praise than to be compared to that book.

But basically, this book is all about putting yourself out there, carving yourself a little home on the internet, and feeling like you belong, even if your life offline isn’t the easiest to understand. And this book follows two characters very invested with the same fandom

Eliza Mirk – AKA: LadyConstellation, creator of one of the biggest webcomics online, Monstrous Sea.

Wallace Warland – The new boy that just joined Eliza’s school halfway through senior year. Oh, and Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer.

“You wrote back…”

Eliza and Wallace’s paths inevitably cross, and he begins to share with her the fanfiction transcribes of the webcomic she has secretly created. And these two meeting offline was one of the most heartwarming things I’ve read all year, even though Wallace has no idea just how much Eliza is invested in this fandom. I think there is just something so beautiful about how accepting and understanding they were of the times that it’s hard to talk, or that it’s almost too much to talk. Honestly, seeing them write back and forth together, side by side, gives me more feelings than I have words for. But I loved it and thought it was so very beautiful.

This book is a love letter to the power of healing that friendships can truly have. Yet, also the healing power of fandoms and celebrating your love for something with others. The magic of finding a person you can be yourself, your true self, no masks, no fakeness, no lies, it’s something that I can’t put into words. But seeing Eliza and Wallace experience that was perfection.

But this is a story about art and how sharing your art is truly like sharing a piece of your heart. And this book really talks about how scary that can be! Yet, also how your art can inspire so many others’ art and it really can create such a beautiful cycle.

And not to bring up Radio Silence constantly, but this book also touches upon how school isn’t for everyone, no matter what people try to make you think. That there isn’t some magical step program of getting good grades in school that will lead you to an amazing university on a full-paid scholarship, which will obviously lead you to the perfect job where you will become filthy rich and experience nonstop happiness! People have so many paths they can choose from, and so many paths that are right and wrong for them. And that’s beautiful and that’s okay.

“She drew so many monsters that she became a monster herself.”

Overall, I loved this book. Fandoms and having an online presence are things that I think I’ll always enjoy reading about, because it’s something very close to my heart. I will say that Wallace’s behavior at the end of this book, and the reason why he wanted Eliza to overcome it all, was just off-putting. But besides that, I loved this book. It made me soft, and warm, and ever so thankful to every single person who reads my reviews and interacts with me. Seriously, you all make me feel so blessed every single day and bring me more happiness than I can measure.


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Content and trigger warnings for suicidal thoughts, talk of past suicide, panic attacks, abandonment, minor bullying, talk of past loss of loved ones, grief depictions, and depression depictions.

❤ I read this for Contemporary-a-thon!

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

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“If he looked in my eyes straight on, he would know how he’d pierced me with an arrow, how its shaft was still sticking out of my chest, twitching each time my heart contracted. And maybe he’d see how my mother had sliced up everything else.”

This is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read in my entire life. It’s powerful, moving, poignant, lyrical, important, and touched me beyond words. From the discussion about mental health and the stigmas we still have in 2018 (especially in Asian cultures), to the true portrayal of grief, to the heartbreaking truth about depression, to the realistic depiction of what it means to be not only biracial but to be white passing, to the discovery of your identity. The Astonishing Color of After is a book I will cherish for the rest of my life.

“I would’ve carved out my heart and brain and given them to her just so she could feel right again.”

But this is a very heavy book, so big trigger and content warnings for suicide, depression, loss of a loved one, depiction of blood, very intense suicidal thoughts, abandonment, racial slurs/remarks, and mention of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). But if you’re in the right state of mind, I recommend this book with my whole heart and soul. This will easily make my best of 2018 list.

The Astonishing Color of After is a story about a girl who has just realized that her mother has committed suicide. This book follows her suffering with the loss of her mother, who she is also seeing in the shape of a bird. This bird has convinced our main character, Leigh, to travel to Taiwan, because there is something there that her mother wants her to remember.

“My mother is a bird. This isn’t like some William Faulkner stream-of-consciousness metaphorical crap. My mother. Is literally. A bird.”

Mental Health
This is a book about mental health and how depression impacts everyone around the person who is living with it. In the acknowledgements, Emily X.R. Pan states that she was inspired to finish this book after someone close to her took their own life. And I’m not going to say that her experience, or my experience, are the only experiences, but the depiction of depression in this book sends a chill up my spine because it feels so real and accurate.

This book discusses how people always think they could have saved the person who ended their life. Or how pills and medications are the fix that depressed people need. Sometimes people believe in other, terrible, treatments that will cure depression, no matter what it costs that person. Depression is an illness, just like anything else. It can come once, it can come and go, and it can come and never leave. But depression is real, and it can be hard, really hard, and it’s not something that’s an “easy fix”, and it’s not something that we should keep stigmatizing and pretending that it’s not a real illness. And this book respectfully and beautiful depicts that. And there is absolutely no suicide shaming in this book.

“Long before doctors put a label on her condition and offered slips of paper bearing the multisyllabic names of pharmaceuticals. Long before my father started leaving on his work trips. Long before everything: She was already hurting.”

Grief
The start of this book was really heavy and hard to read for me. When Leigh discovers what her mother did my heart felt like it was being shredded. But seeing her mother live with her own grief shredded my soul. Depression, loss, and grief are highlighted themes through this entire book, and they are so real and so important and I have no words to express how much they meant to me that they were huge components of this YA story.

“In the beginning, that mother-shaped hole was made of blood. Dark and sticky, soaked to the roots of the carpet.”

Discovery
Ultimately, this is a book about Leigh discovering her self in every sense of the word. From discovering her sexuality, to discovering her creativity, to trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life. To also living with a parent that is depressed, to sharing a life with a parent who is never home. To finally discovering her culture that has been somewhat hidden from her for her entire life. Also, this book is the biggest love letter to the healing power of art.

“Maybe that’s where all the other colors are hiding—in a dimension of the world we just can’t see, between our sky and the rest of the universe.”

Being Biracial
I feel like this is something I never talk about because I feel shame because of all the privileges I’ve received my entire life from being so very white passing, but apparently 2018 is the year I bring up my Filipino heritage in every review I write. I’m a lot more white passing than Leigh, but the things she deals with and feels, especially when she travels to Taiwan, is something so real and something I’ve never had depicted in a book before. From my light hair and eyes, to my barely basic understanding of Tagalog, this book was the book I’ve been searching for my entire life. I have no word combination for how seen I felt in the book. (Also the love interest is half Filipino, and was the cutest little cinnamon role who warmed my heart throughout the book!)

“I suck in a deep breath and quicken my steps to press closer to my grandmother. Her proximity feels like a shield. If only I didn’t stand out so obviously with my lighter eyes, with my lighter hair and its streak of green. If only I had been raised more Taiwanese, and could somehow prove to these people that I belong here.”

Identity
But seeing Leigh claim back her identity is something so beautiful that I don’t even have words for. This story is crafted and woven so exceptionally between different pasts and her present, and seeing Leigh come into her own is something I can’t possibly put into words.

“We try so hard to make these little time capsules. Memories strung up just so, like holiday lights, casting the perfect glow in the perfect tones. But that picking and choosing what to look at, what to put on display—that’s not the true nature of remembering.”

Overall, I loved this (if you couldn’t tell)! This, again, is a story that I will carry inside of my heart for the rest of my life. Emily X.R. Pan has crafted something that is so raw, but so magical. Plus, this is one of the most impressive debuts that I’ve ever read in my entire life. I recommend this with my entire heart and soul.

Oh, and real quick I want to mention that Leigh has a lesbian best friend who has the most supportive mom (and family) in the world and it was such a bright shining light for me! Also, the mom’s name is Mel and I’m going to totally believe her name is Melanie and it was a glimpse of my future if I ever have kids. Okay, now, go buy this book and come gush with me!

And lastly, here are some amazing resources that are actually in the book:

SUICIDE PREVENTION:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org
In a crisis, call their free and 24/ 7 U.S. hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Contact their Crisis Text Line: text TALK to 741-741
National Hopeline Network: http://hopeline.com / 1-800-442-HOPE (4673)
American Association of Suicidology: http://suicidology.org
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: http://afsp.org
Suicide Prevention Resource Center: http://sprc.org

FOR SUICIDE LOSS SURVIVORS:
Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors: http://allianceofhope.org
American Association of Suicidology survivors page: http://suicidology.org/ suicide-survivors/suicide-loss-survivors
Friends for Survival: http://friendsforsurvival.org
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline survivors page: http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/ loss-survivors/
Suicide Awareness Voices of Education: http://save.org

UNDERSTANDING MENTAL ILLNESS:
Mental Health America: http://mentalhealthamerica.net
National Alliance on Mental Illness: http://nami.org
National Institute of Mental Health: http://nimh.nih.gov

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Buddy read with Yusra, Caidyn, & Alexis! ❤