Underdog edited by Tobias Madden – A Powerful and Relatable Collection of Stories About Australian Teens

Underdog, #LoveOzYa Short Stories. [Authors:] Sophie L Macdonald, Tobias Madden, Felicity Martin, Stacey Malacari, Sofia Casanova, Cassi Dorian, Kaneana May, KM Stamer-Squair, Sarah Taviani, Vivian Wei, Michael Earp, Jes Layton
Blurb:

Short tales from the Australian writers of tomorrow.

#LoveOzYA celebrates the best of new Australian writing for teenage readers. It has grown from a humble hashtag into a movement, reflecting the important role young-adult fiction plays in shaping our current generation of readers. This anthology collects, for the first time, some of the tremendous work from the #LoveOzYA community.

Featuring a foreword by award-winning Australian novelist Fleur Ferris (Risk, Wreck, Black and Found), Underdog celebrates the diverse, dynamic and ever-changing nature of our nation’s culture. From queer teen romance to dystopian comedy, from hard-hitting realism to gritty allegory, this brilliant, engrossing and inspiring collection of short stories will resonate with any teen reader, proving, yet again, why there is just so much to love about #LoveOzYA.

My review:

I am floored, friends. When I was given the opportunity to read Underdog, an YA anthology of debut Australian writers, I was excited. But now, having read all the stories and being immersed in such incredible narratives, inspired visions, and powerful voices, I am ecstatic to tell you all about this anthology and its brilliant stories. From dystopia to comedy to explorations of grief and love, Underdog promises something for everyone – and you will definitely find a new favourite short story within this anthology.

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We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal – Great Ideas, but Shallow Execution

Text: We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal.

Blurb:

People lived because she killed.
People died because he lived.

Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the king. If Zafira was exposed as a girl, all of her achievements would be rejected; if Nasir displayed his compassion, his father would punish him in the most brutal of ways.

Both are legends in the kingdom of Arawiya—but neither wants to be.

War is brewing, and the Arz sweeps closer with each passing day, engulfing the land in shadow. When Zafira embarks on a quest to uncover a lost artifact that can restore magic to her suffering world and stop the Arz, Nasir is sent by the king on a similar mission: retrieve the artifact and kill the Hunter. But an ancient evil stirs as their journey unfolds—and the prize they seek may pose a threat greater than either can imagine.

CW’s review:

Picture me heaving a deep sigh. That’s me right now, having finished reading We Hunt the Flame and now having to review it. Despite its promises to be a sweeping YA fantasy and a compelling story about two very different characters that fall into the same journey and destiny despite being enemies, I didn’t feel that the book delivered. Unfortunately the ideas of We Hunt the Flame were wonderful and riveting, but its execution was lacking. And I’m incredibly disappointed, because I so wanted to love this book. The truth is, however, I just simply did not.

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Moonstruck, Volume 1: Magic to Brew by Grace Ellis and Shae Beagle – Cute But Somewhat Confusing

Text: Moonstruck by Grace Ellis, Shae Beagle. Image: A brown girl with dark brown natural hair and a light brown skin with blonde hair, sitting across from each other.

Blurb:

In the little college town of Blitheton, fantasy creatures live cozy, normal lives right alongside humans, and werewolf barista Julie strives to be the most normal of all. But all heck breaks loose when she and her new girlfriend Selena go on a disastrous first date that ends with a magician casting a horrible spell on their friend Chet. Now it’s up to the team of mythical pals to stop the illicit illusionist before it’s too late!

Joce’s review:

The first volume of MOONSTRUCK is divided into five different issues, focusing on the main character, Julie, who is a werewolf and plus-sized Latinx woman. She is in a relationship with Selena, who is a werewolf and Black woman. Julie is a barista at the Black Cat Cafe in a small college town where she works with her best friend Chet. Chet’s gender identity is never explicitly stated, but they use they/them pronouns, and at one point, a male character and Chet show romantic interest in one another. Throughout the story, we meet different creatures, animals, and spirits who live in Blitheton, including Dorian the magician, whose magic show Julie and Selena go to for their first date and who casts a spell on Chet.

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Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan – A Brilliant Asian Fantasy That Explores Trauma, Loss & Oppressive Systems [An Analysis?]

Text: Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan.

Blurb:

Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most cruel.

But this year, there’s a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king’s consort. But Lei isn’t content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

CW’s review:

Girls of Paper and Fire was on everyone’s most anticipated book releases in 2018, and the book is now an effortless favourite among many readers – with good reason. Ngan’s Girls of Paper and Fire is a young-adult fantasy, set in Ikhara, a world inspired by Malaysian culture. It follows Lei, a girl of the lowest caste who is taken from her home to become a Paper Girl: one of eight girls chosen to serve the King. Despite the opulence and privileges afforded to Paper Girls, Lei refuses to accept the injustices enacted by the Demon King and refuses that her future as Paper Girl is her ultimate fate. Thus, she does the unthinkable: she falls in love. This is a provocative, heavy, emotional, and brilliant story about trauma, autonomy, assault, and oppression.

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BLOG TOUR: Not Your Backup by C.B. Lee – Expectedly Light-Hearted and Unexpectedly Critical; Featuring The Queer Latinx Heroine We’ve All Been Waiting For

Text: C.B. Lee, Not Your Backup; Sidekick Squad Blog Tour! 27th May - 7th May. Image: A brown teen with short dark brown hair in mid-jump.

“Friend! Today is finally the day!”

Xiaolong looks particularly excited today, and you don’t blame her. Today is the first day of the Sidekick Squad blog tour (you know this, because Xiaolong has been reminding you for days now!) and it is her first time organising such a big and important event!

Xiaolong the axolotl, holding up a copy of NOT YOUR BACKUP by C.B. Lee and smiling“There will be friends visiting the Pond today and I want to look my best.” She stands a little straighter, magicks a copy of Not Your Backup, and gives you her best pose. “Friend, I’m feeling a little nervous. Do you think I can practice my pitch of this book with you?”

You happily agree. She does look a little nervous, but you know that she just needs a little encouragement.

She clears her throat with an ‘ahem!’ and raises the book up to show you. “Friend, you know how much I love the Sidekick Squad series! And oh my, this third book was everything that I wanted! I mean, it has action, there’s friendship, there’s even some exploration about love and attraction and romance and identity! I just loved it.”

You give her an encouraging nod and tell her that she’s doing good so far! Xiaolong seems to relax at your assurances, and gives you a big smile.

“Well, friend, since you have me started, I want to tell you more about this book! So, Not Your Backup is so awesome because…”

Foreword and gratitude

Three years ago, I read a book that changed my life.

That book was Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee. Not Your Sidekick was one of the first books where I saw myself represented; it was the first time I had felt seen. Reading Jess’s struggle with her diaspora identity struck such a deep chord within me, and I’ve been in love with the Sidekick Squad series and its wonderful characters ever since.

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