Thank you to Partner Netgalley for my advance copy of this novel. I loved The Belles and was so excited to read the sequel, The Everlasting Rose. Set in the dystopian world of Orléans , this novel reveals the way that quests for beauty and power can spiral out of control as the quest to become the most beautiful and most powerful gets in the way of compassion, equity, and all forms of understanding.
The Belles opens in a world where most people are born gris, meaning that their natural complexion is gray, with red eyes, straw-like hair, and gray whiskers on their faces. This condition is both unattractive and painful. The only exception to this natural state is the Belles, who are born lovely with all different complexions, shapes, and demeanors, but who are all able to use the power within their blood to help others beautify themselves. The Belles are raised to beautify others, and when they come of age, that becomes their duty. In order to avoid this natural but uncomfortable state of being gray, the citizens of Orléans must have routine beauty procedures done, which can only be performed by the Belles. They pay high prices and suffer extreme pain to endure the beauty procedures. Camille Beauregard and her sisters are coming of age at the beginning of The Belles, and they become the group of Belles able to assist all of the people of Orléans, including the royal family, with these procedures. However, as Camille gets deeper into her journey, she quickly realizes that the world is not as it seems and that her talents can be misused and can cause harm.
The Everlasting Rose picks up where The Belles left off, and it captivates the reader immediately. I loved the main characters in the novel and found myself swept up in their riveting adventure, rooting for them to succeed, even though they were facing staggering odds. Camellia Beauregard leads us through the complex world of the royal family as Princess Sophia makes her way toward the throne. Camille discovers that she has powers she did not realize she possessed, but she also realizes that she can be forced and manipulated into doing things that are horrendous. Her unlikely companion, Rémy, and her sister Edel, are both fascinating supporting characters with their own agendas and desires. Additionally, the teacup dragons who travel with them are so precious and fun!
I love the way Clayton demonstrates the power of suggestion, the pressure to fit in, and the role of gossip and the media in what shapes society. I also love her commentary on the way that subliminal messages and peer pressure can lead us all to feel that there is some kind of artificial beauty ideal that we should achieve-- and that the pursuit of that false ideal can destroy us or cause us to destroy others.
Camille's courage, determination, loyalty, and resolute unwillingness to back down make her the kind of woman I hope to be and hope for my daughters to be. She is ready to bring about change, and she faces the uncertain future with resilience and passion.
In short, I cannot wait for Book Three!
Quick Summary: This is a novel set during the time period of the American civil war, but in the story, during the war, the soldiers become the undead, and through bites, they contaminated more people. In the years that follow, teens of color are put into combat schools to learn to be attendants for wealthy white people. Jane McKeene is a teen participating in the combat training program, but when she is abruptly shipped off to a settlement out west, she discovers even more challenges in their unstable world.
My Take: I loved this novel. I wasn't sure how I would feel about it because "zombie books" aren't typically my favorite, but I adored Jane's forthright, courageous character from the beginning, and I was captivated by the horrendous circumstances put in place by the white, privileged people in power in the society.
My conclusion: This is a powerful read - fast moving with rich characters and complex circumstances. Jane McKeene is one of my all-time favorite YA characters - she's clever, sassy, and determined. Most importantly, I love the way that Justina Ireland provides insightful commentary on the ways that American culture has systemically and mercilessly oppressed people groups in order to further the causes of the few privileged people within the society (who use their privilege to maintain the hegemonic social structure) and the fierce bravery of those who stand against that structure. 4/5 stars.
Teaching Tips: This would be an awesome book to use for lit circles. It is a great read for teens and would work well in any class from grades 9-12 (and could be handled by some middle school students as well). As far as lit circles go, this book could be in a group with other books about the civil war era, but it could also fit nicely with books about oppression, justice, and the power of young people to change the world around them.
Podcast Highlights: I particularly loved the discussion about Jane as a protagonist who is more complex and real than many of the female teen protagonists we see in dystopian or apocalyptic YA novels. I think Sara was right that Jane is more real and richer in depth than many of the female protagonists in YA novels.
Quick Summary: In this episode, we discussed three of the choices for Global Read Aloud this year. If you're unfamiliar with Global Read Aloud, it is a movement focused on connecting classrooms around the world through shared reading experiences. Below are the summaries we wrote for each of the novels we discuss in the podcast.
Podcast Highlights: It was so fun to discuss all three of these books with Jen and Sara, and I loved hearing their perspectives.
Quick Summary: It is a story about 3 siblings, separated at birth by either adoption or being placed in foster care, finding each other in their teens and navigating the complicated relationships in their lives: both adoptive and biological. The book is told through multiple perspectives, alternating through each sibling’s point of view. Grace just gave up her own daughter, after getting pregnant at 16, and discovers that she has two biological siblings she’s never known about. She reaches out to Maya, who is dealing with her own parents’ struggles and always feeling a little bit on the outside. Together, they find Joaquin, who has spent his life bouncing through the foster care system. As the book progresses, these three siblings discover each other while also learning more about themselves, their biological mother and the connections they never expected to experience.
My Take: Benway did an amazing job of exploring so many different angles and perspectives on what it means to be family. She integrated some hard truths about adoption, racial dynamics, and tensions between adopted children and both their birth mother/ parents and their adopted parents, but she houses those truths in tenderness and compassion. It's a powerful story, and I love the narration from three different, distinct siblings.
My conclusion: Overall, I absolutely loved this novel. Benway took on so many issues with her characters, and each narrator's voice was unique and so lovable. I did struggle a with the plausibility of some of the events, but that did not stop the overall impact of the novel. 4/5 stars.
What I added to my TBR list: Jen's pick, Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert, sounds like an awesome book, and it sounds like it hits on issues of family and race dynamics that I find fascinating and important to consider in our society.
Teaching Tips: This would work so well as a lit circle choice. It's a powerful read for students but would be a little long to move through whole class. However, the issues this book raises (such as what constitutes a family, why mothers opt to give up babies, and how to navigate relationships) would work so well with a wide array of other complementary books.
Podcast Highlights: I so loved the points that were made about adoption and the difficulty of giving up a baby because I think that highlights the issues that Benway raises about why mothers have to make those hard choices. I also loved the discussion we had about siblings and the amazing dynamics of sibling relationships.
The Astonishing Color of After, by Emily X. R. Pan, chronicles the journey of Leigh Chen Sanders as she goes to her mother’s homeland, Taiwan, in order to bring about some resolution for her mother (and herself) after her mother’s suicide. Shortly after her mother’s death, Leigh discovers that her mother has become a beautiful red bird, and she pursues the bird, which takes Leigh on a journey into the collective past of her family.
My Take: This book was stunningly beautiful. I also found it deeply painful to read. For a large portion of the book, I was worried that there was no hope for redemption or peace. The premise makes it clear that there is no hope for Leigh's mom (at least in her bodily form on this earth) as she has already succumbed to suicide as the book opens. However, I was completely captivated, and I found the twists and turns and magical realism that Pan weaves so smoothly into the text to be both compelling and comforting.
My conclusion: This was a stunning novel. Throughout much of the novel, I felt like I couldn't imagine feeling hopeful by the end, but it is remarkably uplifting considering the heavy content and premise. It was captivating, eloquent, and artistic. In short, I loved it. I was teary throughout much of it, but I found it cathartic and hopeful. Well done, Ms. Pan. I look forward to more works by this talented author. 5/5 stars.
Favorite Quotes: The memorable, gorgeous quotes are endless. I was taking photos of pages to capture the passages, and I truly felt that I could have photographed every page. I cannot believe this is Pan's first novel! Here are a few of the ones I loved.
Teaching Tips: This novel would be a great choice for lit circles, and it would work well with other works about grief, coping with loss, family dynamics, cross-cultural families, and second generation Americans.
K. Ashley Dickson-Ellison is a former high school English teacher (who is now an instructional technology teacher) interested in exploring the integration of trending young adult literature into the English classroom experience. Ashley is also a member of the podcast Unabridged; check out the podcast site below.
Please note: All ideas and opinions are my own and do not represent my current or past employers.
© K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All thoughts and ideas are the author's and do not represent any employer.