Review: Race to the Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse

So I wrote yesterday about using my platform to share books by marginalized authors. I also mentioned, briefly, the Rick Riordan Presents imprint. As Riordan himself says, “The point of Rick Riordan Presents is to publish and promote great voices from cultures that have been too often marginalized or erased by mainstream culture.”. He goes on to say, in the intro to Race to the Sun, “No one has suffered from this more than Native and Indigenous peoples.”. As a reader, as a bookseller, as a book *lover*, it makes my heart happy that this exists, and that Riordan is using his considerable voice to help boost others without that same amount of wattage. I’m also super pleased that, in reading Race to the Sun, it was just as good as I’d hoped it would be.

I came to this particular title as a fan of Roanhorse’s Sixth World series. I truly enjoyed the cultural aspect she brought to those titles, and was absolutely thrilled that she was getting so much recognition. However, I was also a little nervous about this book – it is not uncommon for authors who started out in adult titles to really struggle writing middle grade. The voices sometimes don’t sound authentic – either it feels like they’re trying too hard, or like they’re (unintentionally) talking down to their audience. I’m certain it’s a difficult balance, particularly if you’re used to writing for adults, but it’s definitely one that too many struggle with. So having said that – I was afraid to get my hopes up for this, Roanhorse’s middle grade debut. Happily, the worry was all for nought.

In Race to the Sun, Nizhoni Begay realizes that she is seeing monsters. Granted, they *look* like people, but they feel weird to her, and tend to have creepy red eyes. It all comes to a head one day when during a basketball game at school, she sees one watching her – and learns that he (it?) is her dad’s new boss. From there, adventures ensue, with Nizhoni, her best friend Davery, and her brother Mac trying to find a way to defeat the monster. They find they are aided (or not) by some Navajo gods they have only ever heard stories about.

The characters are so well done! The best characters feel *real* when readers begin to know them. They can be pictured, they can be empathized with (or detested, as the case may be), and there’s a sense of a relationship as the story goes along. Nizhoni is a girl who has begun learning about her Navaho heritage, but not always willingly. She’s had a bit of a rough life, as has her brother, who gets picked on relentlessly. She’s a combination of spunk, anxiety, and determination, with a smidge of sarcasm thrown in for good measure. Her brother and her best friend have the same sense of realness – one who is used to being the brunt of all torments, and the other who is super smart and tries to talk Nizhoni out of some of her more…bravado…ideas. As for the gods themselves, well…this book just made me want to learn more. They made me giggle, and occasionally, just have ALL THE FEELS.

The story is fairly fast-paced, so it will work even for more reluctant readers. A smidge of danger, some wise-cracking, and a dramatic denouement that will leave everyone cheering – it’s perfect for middle-grade readers. Having said that, it would also be excellent for as a read-aloud in class, for middle-grade or even upper elementary/lower-level high school. The glossary of terms (with pronunciation!) in the back was brilliant and so helpful. For those who are not familiar with Navaho, as is the case with me, it was nice to know that was back there so I didn’t feel like I was butchering anything *too* badly.

Overall, I really did enjoy this book. Much more than I even anticipated. I am truly hoping that it becomes the first in a series – or even a trilogy – because I would love to read more about these kids, the prophecy surrounding them (no spoilers!), and the Navaho culture from one who knows. As Riordan said, the Native culture has been the one that has been suppressed and oppressed the most. Even as other POC have begun having their voices amplified, little by little, Native culture has not had the same boost. That is, however, beginning to change, with titles like this one. Having this book out there will be invaluable for those who have felt their voices minimized and shunted aside, allowing so many kids to see themselves in a story and, hopefully, realize that they *do* matter.

Sharing *is* Caring

I read a comment on Twitter yesterday that set my teeth on edge (Though honestly – it’s Twitter. That’s the norm.). Before I get more into the tweet itself, let me preface by saying – I am a bookseller. Yes, that’s what I do for work, but it’s also a piece of who I am. I have been recommending books to others since I was in high school – everyone knew I was The Reader in the room, and if they needed a title for a book report, I could give them options. Books are a part of me. I value them, and I view them as necessities. So much of who I am as a person today is because of books – the characters and flaws I was exposed to (and still am), the things that make me think and re-evaluate. So this tweet really hurt my heart.

Now, I can’t imagine what this is like for an actual POC, because…I’m not one. I don’t have that barrier. But as a bookseller, this is appalling. The reason I – and so many others – love books as we do is because books aren’t just about their settings, or the specific storyline, or that one character. Yes, those are important – but what makes books everlasting are the THEMES they address. It’s not just about “too dark”, “pregnant teenage girls”, or anything else. It’s about showing that kid, reading alone in their room, that they’re NOT alone. There is darkness everywhere – particularly in the world right now. Rape, child molestation and trafficking, sexism, racism, bigotry – it doesn’t just contain itself to a “regional” area. These are themes that play out in every town, in every country, in every single part of the world – and those that experience them need to know they’re not alone. Those that *partake* in them may learn, by reading a book recommended to them, to see from the angle of their victims. These things are universal, and we do a disservice to readers when we can’t see that.

Now, I don’t know how this gets changed. What I do know is, that as a bookseller, I’m lucky enough to have a voice – even if it’s a small one. And how I *use* that voice is of utmost importance. Recommending diverse titles, displays for people to want to look at (Planning one right now for the Rick Riordan Presents imprint – he’s a white dude, but every single book in that imprint is for marginalized voices), setting aside our own impulse to recommend primarily white authors…getting those voices out there is key. Because at a certain point, people in other countries pay attention to that as well.

As a blogger, who will be blogging about books, I *also* have a responsibility to make an effort to share books by marginalized voices. Does this mean I have to share a book even if I hated it? Absolutely not! But I can work on reading more works by marginalized voices, because the Law of Percentages (Does that exist? If not, I’m totally using it anyway.) states that: The More Exposure One Gets, The More Likely One Is To Find Something They Like. And when we find something we like? BLOG THE HELL OUT OF IT. Share it. Talk about it. Let people know that this is a book worth using their (potentially limited) time to read, and to spend their (again potentially limited) money on. Or worth waiting for from the library. Or listening to via audiobook. #Getthewordout.

I’m aware that, in the scheme of publishing and books, I have a very small voice. But when many Very Small Voices combine, then it becomes a Very BIG Voice, and then – people pay attention. It’s on all of us who love books, and truly value what they represent, to help make this happen. That old saying, “Sharing is caring” truly represents the best of books, and that’s where we *all* need to be.

Relationship Issues

Guys. I have a problem. And in terms of reading, it’s sort of a big one. But I’m putting it out there, because I can’t *possibly* be the only one who does this. Are you ready?

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I…rarely finish trilogies. Some of my favorites have gone without end for years. The Illuminae trilogy? Still going. Red Rising (though it’s grown)? Unread. Nevernight? Nevernope. And the list could go on. Even worse? IT’S NOT A CONSCIOUS CHOICE. I *have* the third book for every. single. trilogy. They were purchased with the full intent of reading them immediately. And yet…they sit, unread, TAUNTING ME.

I’ve thought a lot about why this may be, and as much as I’d like to say I have an actual answer – I don’t. I *do* have a guess, though. I do wonder if, in some distant part of my heart, I just don’t want the story to end. We all have those things, right? Where we think that if we just ignore it, we will never have to face it – whether it’s paying a bill, dealing with a child who keeps asking over and over again, or ending a relationship. And that’s what these trilogies are, right? Relationships.

Any time a reader devotes time and energy to the characters in a story, there is a relationship built. Between the author and the reader is where the first relationship is built – trusting that the book will be just what was hoped for. From there, the reader builds further relationships with the characters (one hopes) as they have their adventures, solve their problems, kill their bad guys, or whatever the case may be. In a trilogy (even a duology), those relationships are extended, and the characters are expanded, and eventually – for so many readers – it’s hard to say goodbye when it’s over.

So, that’s my thought. I apparently have relationship issues, and struggle to understand when they’re over. Instead, I look longingly at those third books, swear that I will get to them “as soon as this book is done”, and then when the time comes, I just…don’t. I move on to something else, someONE else, and feel guilt over my neglect. But now that I know, I will *absolutely* begin working on those endings. Just as soon as I’m done with the one I’m reading now.

Choosing a blog title

That is HARD WORK, people. Seriously. I have to wonder how many people get all excited about setting up a blog, and then hit that “title” stumbling block? Because here’s the thing – there are simultaneously endless options, and yet not enough. Is it already taken? Does it make sense? Will people be able to remember it (if you get to that point)? What will you be writing about? IT’S A LOT.

I started out thinking, well, I’ll have book stuff on there. But not just books. Probably some politics because…have you seen the world today? And maybe a smidge about my small business. But not too much, so it can’t be centered around that. So maybe it’ll be more like a coffee klatch. But I don’t drink coffee, I drink tea. This is pretty much a stream of consciousness idea of how the process went. And in between, I was coming up with ideas and then discarding them – either because they didn’t make sense, wouldn’t work in the long-term, were already taken, or would be difficult for people for one reason or another.

An example of this is perfectly illustrated by one of my favorite ideas: Tea and Craic. Craic being Irish for news, fun, and entertainment. Excellent, I thought! I’ve done it! It makes sense, it will encompass a little bit of everything with no problems, it’s something that is suitably vague, yet also weirdly specific…I’M IN. I checked, and it was available. BELLS WERE RINGING. And then. I thought a little bit more about it. Craic is pronounced “crack”, and well…that’s sorta weird for people who won’t know. And how many people are going to type tea and criac, or tea and crac, or tea and craik…the options for getting it *wrong* were virtually endless. So, sadly, out the door out went.

On and on this process went, finding ideas and discarding them for a variety of reasons. Single word titles? Taken. Bookish titles? Too specific. Tea? Nothing worked well. Finally, I hit on Still More Words. It works for everything, makes sense – AND IT WASN’T TAKEN. There may have been a short dancing celebration, but I will neither confirm nor deny.

And, well, here we are. A new blog, with a title that works for me and makes sense for the (anticipated) contents. So for any of you reading this and thinking “I could do that!”? You absolutely can – just sit down with a drink of choice, plenty of time, and some music in the background (Men at Work is good). Prepare for it to take some time, and no matter how frustrating it gets, don’t cave until you find something that really feels right. And then feel free to do your happy dance when that accomplishment is finally complete.

The Journey Begins…

I’ve always enjoyed writing, in all its forms. I was that annoying kid in high school that always had the excellent papers in every. single. class. I was the weird child that used to write “reports” FOR FUN. AT HOME. Yep – that was me. But somehow, over the years, writing for me has ceased to be something that happened very often. I graduated high school, joined the Coast Guard – did a lot of writing there, because I had to do logs and case reports. But…it wasn’t the same. And as the internet and cell phones and all that stuff became more ubiquitous (Yes, I’m also that person who sometimes uses big words. Drives my husband nuts.), writing sort of…stopped. Everything is typed, or texted, or insta’d. And I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I saw this blog post, by the excellent Chuck Wendig.

Now, mind you. I don’t view myself as a writer in the sense that he was talking about. I’m not an author, and not likely to ever be one. I can write the hell out of something, for sure. But the other important piece is the idea…and I suck at that. However, I *am* a writer in that I’ve always enjoyed taking a thought and writing it out and making it make SENSE. To myself, or to someone else. So when I read his blog post (and if you don’t follow him, you really should – it’s always interesting, typically entertaining, and *never* dull), it struck a chord. It reminded me that writing for writing’s sake is also ok. That it’s something I enjoy, and should really try to make time for. And so…here we are.

I don’t know exactly what this process will entail. I’m pretty sure it will be pretty random. Definitely book reviews – that’s a given. Probably some bits on different teas, more than likely some politics (my Twitter account is the weirdest mix of books, politics, and just random stuff.), and maybe even some bits about my struggle to learn how to eat intuitively. Not something I’ve ever been good at, but something I’m working on. What I *do* know is that it will be written more for me than any audience. Honestly, I would be flattering myself if I thought there would actually ever BE an audience. People tend to like to have an idea what they’re getting when they sign up for a blog – and for at least the first while, that won’t be happening here.

Having said all of that – if you’re still here – welcome! I look forward to hearing from you if you’re so inclined. I hope you find something of interest to you as I get this party started (Pink. Love her. Might have musically bits every so often as well.). I do have a couple of requests, however:

  1. Please be respectful of everyone. That includes me. You may not like what I have to say, and that is perfectly ok. But I won’t tolerate trolling or hatred or rudeness. Life is too short for all that. Respectful discourse is perfectly fine, but remember – if I want to see hate, I can just visit my Twitter account.
  2. If you fail to abide by Rule #1 – you may be blocked from commenting in the future. I *will* exercise my ability to remove comments as well.
  3. When I taught, my students struggled with too many rules. So I prefer to follow the KISS rule. However, these are always up for change as needed. But I believe that most people are capable of reasonable, rational thought (current emerging national cult notwithstanding).

Now that THAT’S out of the way – Welcome. And here we go!