Rick’s Recent Reads

A quick report on my recent reads, as I’ve had the pleasure of making some great new fictional friends in the past month!

It’s been a long time since a book has made me teary-eyed, but Gracefully Grayson had me sniffling at the end. The story is beautiful and authentic. To say it is the tale of a young transgender person coming of age and finding his (her) identity misses the larger picture. This is a book about how we treat each other as human beings — whether we choose compassion or mistrust, kindness or ostracism. Most of all, it’s a story of courage. Grayson is a sixth grader who has always felt different and alone. His parents died when he was young. He hasn’t eaten in the lunchroom with his peers since second grade. When he looks in the mirror, his reflection does not match what he feels inside. Secretly, he imagines his over-sized shirts are dresses and his workout pants are long skirts. He wishes more than anything that he could be who he really is on the outside as well as the inside. When the school play comes around, The Myth of Persephone, Grayson tries out for the lead female role of Persephone, causing a storm of reaction that will affect everyone in his life. I know the character of Grayson. I have taught Grayson in my own classroom. His struggle and his bravery are portrayed with great love and insight. I’m grateful this book exists — not just for transgender youth, but for all young readers who are searching for their own identity and their own voice in the face of societal pressures.

Caleana Sardothien, young woman assassin, is betrayed and sentenced to the salt mines of Endovier. After a year, however, she is given an opportunity: If she wins a contest to become the king’s champion, she will be granted a four-year contract, working as an assassin for the empire she hates, at the end of which time she will be freed. After reading the premise of the book, I thought, “Sign me up!” After the first chapter, I knew I was in good hands. This book has plenty of mystery, magic, humor and romance — a perfect brew for fans of good YA fantasy. If you liked Graceling, Grave Mercy, Shadow and Bone or other fantasies featuring strong female protagonists with scary good skills, I think you’ll enjoy this quite a lot. And it’s the first of a series!

An adult sci fi novel with an intriguing premise: Mankind has reached its first extraterrestrial world, Oasis, and the giant corporation USIC is working hard to build a colony there while economic and climatic conditions on earth continue to deteriorate. There’s one hitch to their plans: the natives of Oasis want a preacher. They’ve had a limited introduction to the Christian faith, but after their first human pastor mysteriously goes missing, they refuse to provide food to the human settlers until a new preacher arrives to replace him. Peter Leigh steps up to take the job, leaving behind his wife Bea in England to become an interstellar missionary. When Peter gets to Oasis, we know something is not right. Why have two colonists disappeared? Why are the natives so intent on learning about the Christian gospel? And why is USIC censoring news and correspondence between Earth and Oasis? As Peter and Bea write back and forth to one another, sharing what is happening on the two planets, the story becomes both painful and compelling. And when you find out the answers to some of the novel’s central mysteries . . . Well, I won’t give anything away, but the answers pack a punch.

An awesome comic book debut — Ms. Marvel introduces Kamala Khan, your typical 16-year-old Muslim Pakistani-American girl from Jersey City, who is endowed with the power to change her form and size. The writing in this series is so good — punchy, funny, believable and fresh, and Kamala’s daily-life struggles dovetail wonderfully (and sometimes hilariously) with the exploits of her secret alter ego. If you like the Marvel universe and are looking to check out some original new superheroes, I highly recommend Ms. Marvel.

Rick Riordan