by Sonia Patel
Cinco Puntos Press, 276 Pages reviewed by Kristie Gadson
Purchase this book to benefit Cleaver
Click here to purchase this book
To Rocky, the city of Seoul is truly something to behold. Sprawling skyscrapers dare to kiss the sky, thousands of lights rival the sun at night, and millions of people bustle through at any given moment, while the Han River remains a calm force through it all. And it will soon be his to rule, just like his father, the leader of the city’s most notorious gang, Three Star Pa.
However, despite Rocky being the sole heir and next in line to become the big boss, his father refuses to turn the gang over to him. Frustrated, Rocky isn’t entirely surprised. It’s one of too many unanswered questions that plague him, especially since his mother’s faded memory threatens to slice the edges of his own mind like a knife.
Aim. Throw. Sixteen times, one for every year of my life. Aim. Throw. Ten times, one for every year mom’s been gone. Aim. Throw. Ten times, one for every year Dad’s been the most pissed off person I’ve ever known.
In Sonia Patel’s poetic, fast-paced and electrifying second novel Bloody Seoul, the thread of Rocky’s past unravels the life he has carefully planned. Molding his life to mirror his father’s, he leads his own Three Star Pa gang made up of his closest friends. He beats up his weaker classmates, fist fights to defend his turf against rival gangs, and torments Ha-Na, a mixed Korean and Indian girl whom he regards as an easy target. Rocky’s life is structured to form the future he desires; but his mind frequently dives into the pool of reverie, where the ghost of his missing mother beckons and the needles of his fractured family sting.
What makes Rocky’s story so tangible is how Patel invokes memory and stitches it throughout the first-person narrative. Rocky’s past comes forth by means of his senses: he sees a family photo and remembers a time when his father was happy, he feels his mother’s love within the careful stitch work of the handkerchief he keeps, and smells her scent when he smokes her favorite brand of cigarettes. He also hears her humming when he plays his favorite songs and feels the presence of his uncles when he eats their favorite dishes. Memory is naturally triggered by the five senses, and Patel uses these to further develop Rocky’s character and have us connect with him.
The memories of his past reveal many open wounds, forcing Rocky to confront his father about what really happened to his uncles, his mother, and their family. But his father answers Rocky’s questions with threats and bruises, a direct violation of the first code of Three Star Pa: Family comes first. Family is to be protected at all costs. His father’s blatant disregard of that code forces Rocky to realize his father’s true nature and the lengths his father will go to get what he wants.
There are many ways I’m like my dad, many ways I want to be like my dad, but killing people isn’t one of them.
Patel’s writing shines. Her words flow across the page like a poem – descriptive yet succinct, observant of an entire world in so few phrases. Her writing style reflects Rocky’s character. It is observant, wastes no time equivocating, and takes everything in while focusing on what’s most important with sharp precision. The language may seem shallow at first – like Rocky’s perception of his own life and goals – but the more Rocky plunges into his memories, the deeper the language pulls readers in.
Patel explores how the interconnectivity of memory and family shapes one’s identity. Rocky’s identity is hugely shaped by his relation to his father and Three Star Pa, which had always remained unchallenged. Memories of his past and, most importantly, of his mother undermine this identity, causing it to crack and break. His journey toward redefining himself is a difficult one that readers can relate to. Who are we if not an extension of our family? When memories of a difficult past cause us to break away from our families, how do we go about defining ourselves without them? And who do we let in to our chosen family?
To these questions, Rocky learns there is no easy answer. Discovering who we are is simply that: discovery. And there is no end to it. It’s a journey with no set destination, and in the face of hardship all we can do – all we must do – is keep moving forward. Bloody Seoul teaches us this lesson through colorful and subtly powerful storytelling, gripping readers from beginning to end. A one-of-a-kind read.
New life just around the bend. More happiness than I can comprehend.
Kristie Gadson is a copywriter by day, a book reviewer by night, and an aspiring comic book artist in-between time. Her passions lie in children’s books, young adult novels, fantasy novels, comics, and animated cartoons because she believes that one is never “too old” to learn the life lessons they teach. Kristie resides in Norristown on the outskirts of Philadelphia PA, which she lovingly calls “her little corner of the universe.”
TIGERS, NOT DAUGHTERS by Samantha Mabry Algonquin Young Readers 288 pages reviewed by Kristie Gadson Samantha Mabry’s Tigers, Not Daughters is a modern-day ghost story that follows the Torres sisters—Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa—one year after the untimely death of their oldest sister, Ana. Wracked with grief, the Torres sisters ache for Ana; but their profound sadness is met with unexpected events that eventually make their sister’s presence known: raps on doors and windows, writings on the walls, sensory overload, recurring storms, flickering lights, dying animals, and one escaped spotted hyena lurking in the darkness of their neighborhood in Southtown. Ana reappears in a way the girls can’t begin to imagine and returns with a vengeance they don’t understand. Mabry tells a riveting tale of three sisters who discover the power of sisterhood and what it means to stay together despite insurmountable, unnatural odds. What stood out to me while reading Tigers, Not Daughters was how colorful and tangible each of the Torres sisters is. Their characterization is well-rounded, Mabry vividly telling the story through the individual perspectives of each sister, as well as including a fourth perspective of a character that watches them from afar. Each sister is unique in ... Read the full text
HOW TO BUILD A HEART by Maria Padian Algonquin Young Readers, 339 pages reviewed by Kristie Gadson Purchase this book to benefit Cleaver Isabella Crawford doesn’t keep secrets, she guards them. Protects them: People love to talk about themselves, and if you keep directing the conversation and questions back to them, they leave the interaction with the impression you’re the absolute best. Even though you haven’t told them a damn thing.I’m crazy good at this game. And I’ve had years of practice. For Izzy, a failure to safeguard a secret means the life she meticulously crafted for herself is in jeopardy. She’d prefer not to keep most of her life hidden away; but she also knows that the less you share about yourself, the less you get hurt. In her new novel How to Build a Heart, Maria Padian brings us into Izzy’s world with one of her biggest secrets: she’s poor and lives with her mother, little brother, and dog in Meadowbrook Gardens, a trailer park on the outskirts of town. Aside from her best friend and closest confidante, Roz, nobody knows where she lives – or how she’s lived. And she intends to keep it that way ... Read the full text
BLOODY SEOUL by Sonia Patel Cinco Puntos Press, 276 Pages reviewed by Kristie GadsonPurchase this book to benefit Cleaver To Rocky, the city of Seoul is truly something to behold. Sprawling skyscrapers dare to kiss the sky, thousands of lights rival the sun at night, and millions of people bustle through at any given moment, while the Han River remains a calm force through it all. And it will soon be his to rule, just like his father, the leader of the city’s most notorious gang, Three Star Pa. However, despite Rocky being the sole heir and next in line to become the big boss, his father refuses to turn the gang over to him. Frustrated, Rocky isn’t entirely surprised. It’s one of too many unanswered questions that plague him, especially since his mother’s faded memory threatens to slice the edges of his own mind like a knife. Aim. Throw. Sixteen times, one for every year of my life. Aim. Throw. Ten times, one for every year mom’s been gone. Aim. Throw. Ten times, one for every year Dad’s been the most pissed off person I’ve ever known. In Sonia Patel’s poetic, fast-paced and electrifying second novel Bloody Seoul, ... Read the full text
WORTHY OF LOVE by Andre Fenton Formac Publishing Company Limited, 199 Pages reviewed by Kristie GadsonPurchase this book to benefit Cleaver Two hundred and eighty pounds. For Adrian Carter that number isn’t just his weight, it is his shame. A shame he tries to hide underneath layers of black clothing but still faces every day as he is bullied for his size. Tired of the constant ridicule and feelings of inadequacy, Adrian decides enough is enough, and he vows to shed the pounds one way or the other…no matter the cost. Andre Fenton’s heartful debut novel Worthy of Love follows Adrian as he struggles not only with his weight, but with his own sense of self-worth. Candid, earnest, and full of emotion, Fenton gives us a unique yet personal story about one journey toward self-love. Desperate to drop his weight, Adrian scrounges up enough money to enroll in a few kickboxing classes. Along the way he meets Melody Woods, a skinny, quirky girl with a passion for health and fitness. Strong-willed but gentle, Mel’s confidence shines – which both intimidates and enthralls the less confident, timid Adrian. Much to Adrian’s surprise, Mel is unfazed by his size and decides to help ... Read the full text
A DANGER TO HERSELF AND OTHERS by Alyssa Sheinmel Sourcebooks Inc, 338 Pages reviewed by Kristie GadsonPurchase this book to benefit Cleaver Hannah Gold was supposed to be enjoying everything California had to offer; getting ahead on her studies at a collegiate summer program; hiking through the mountains and sunbathing on the beach; enjoying her summer with her roommate and new best friend, Agnes. That is, until Agnes falls and lapses into a coma, and Hannah finds herself institutionalized in a seven-foot by eight-foot room, where she doesn't feel she's supposed to be at all. Alyssa Sheinmel's engrossing novel A Danger to Herself and Others, is an intriguing page-turner set almost entirely within the walls of a mental institution. It delves deep into Hannah's mind as she wrestles, not only with what happened the night of Agnes’ fall, but with her own mental state. Reminiscent of Ken Kesey's classic novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Hannah is this story’s R.P. McMurphy – the intelligent, conniving, and self-proclaimed “sane” protagonist of her own narrative. She goes about her first days studying her surroundings, taking note of certain privileges that will get her ever closer to freedom (group showers, cafeteria access, and ... Read the full text
CHEESUS WAS HERE by J.C. Davis Sky Pony Press, 242 pagesreviewed by Kristie GadsonPurchase this book to benefit Cleaver In the small town of Clemency, Texas Sunday morning worship is even more important than Friday night football. With a population of 1,236 and only two churches in town, everyone looks forward to putting on their Sunday best and lifting the Lord’s name on high. That is, everyone except Delaney Delgado, the main character in J.C. Davis’ debut novel, who chooses to spend her Sundays working at the local gas station. Her sanctuary lies behind the cashier’s counter where she’s free to observe the spectacle without having to engage in any of it. However, when her coworker discovers the face of baby Jesus on a wheel of Babybel cheese, Clemency goes into a frenzy of miraculous proportions. Word travels fast in a small town, and it isn’t long until news of baby Cheesus spreads like wildfire. Del watches in horror as her quiet life becomes an uproar, with classmates and citizens claiming they were healed after they gazed upon the blessed wheel of cheese. How anyone could believe in miracles—or God for that matter—is beyond her; but matters get ... Read the full text
HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLDedited by Kelly JensenAlgonquin Young Readers, 218 pagesreviewed by Kristie Gadson Feminism. It’s an ideology that has long been approached with trepidation, met with both skepticism and controversy. There have been countless articles, papers, films, and books exploring and defining the concept. However, Here We Are is more than a series of essays on feminism. It’s a collection of stories, blog posts, comics, drawings, and interviews featuring an array of different voices – each more unique than the last – describing what feminism means and how it plays a role in our lives. Each page encourages readers to think about how they, as individuals, can relate to a belief that strives to unite us as a whole. “The people and the world around us shape our individual path to feminism…The journey is always changing, always shifting, and influenced by our own experiences and perspectives.” The book is structured like a scrapbook, having a combination of calligraphy, designs, and doodles drawn across the pages, accenting each chapter. Not only is this visually appealing, it creates a sense of comfort that softens the intensity of the subject matter. Through its playful design ... Read the full text
RANI PATEL IN FULL EFFECT by Sonia Patel Cinco Puntos Press, 314 Pagesreviewed by Kristie GadsonPurchase this book to benefit Cleaver In her debut young adult novel Rani Patel in Full Effect, Sonia Patel takes us back to the era of faded box cuts, high-top Adidas, and gold chains as thick as your wrist; to the era where hip-hop reigned supreme and rhymes flowed out of boom boxes like water down Moaula Falls. The year is 1991, and here we meet Rani Patel, a straight-A student council president by day and an emerging rapper under the stage name MC Sutra by night. In a one-of-a-kind mixture of nineties slang, pidgin Hawaiian, and traditional Gujarati, Rani's story is told from a perspective that's undeniably fresh and unapologetically raw. From the very beginning the book ensnares you with a powerful scene of Rani shaving her head after seeing her father with another woman. As her tears fall so, too, does all of her hair, giving herself the Indian mark of a widow. Her father once meant everything to her, and she meant everything to him—or so she thought. He lovingly called her his princess, and for a time they were ... Read the full text
LOCAL GIRL SWEPT AWAY by Ellen Wittlinger Merit Press, 269 pagesreviewed by Kristie Gadson Ellen Wittlinger's Local Girl Swept Away is a gripping story of loss, denial, and deception wrapped up in a page-turning mystery that’s hard to put down. When Lorna is pulled underwater during a storm, her death shakes the community of Providencetown, but no one is more shaken than her best friend Jackie Silva. Lorna was everything Jackie feels she isn’t: untamed, beautiful, brave, and outgoing—not to mention lucky enough to have had Jackie’s crush, their best friend Finn, as her boyfriend. Jackie is the undisputed number two and it's something she has accepted about herself. But, with Lorna gone, life becomes confusing and uncertain. Who is she now? In Lorna’s absence, Jackie slowly builds the strength to rediscover parts of herself she had forgotten. Her love of photography takes on a new fervor and, through the camera lens, she experiences the parts of her life that still hold meaning. Her increased volunteer work at the Jasper Street Arts Center opens doors that she didn’t know could be opened: a chance at getting into her dream school, the Rhode Island Institute of design, and ... Read the full text
BREAKFAST WITH NERUDA by Laura Moe Merit Press, 252 pagesreviewed by Kristie Gadson At some point in our lives, many of us bury parts of ourselves that we aren't ready to face. These layers can form over time; from people we've encountered, from situations we've endured, or from issues we've found lodged deep within our psyche. They can protect us, like a shield, from life's many fluctuations, and they can contribute to a great part of who we are. However, this protection can come at a cost–we can become distant, untouchable, and unreachable to those we love or resist the change we need to grow. In Laura Moe's debut novel, Breakfast with Neruda, we journey with Michael Flynn as he learns to peel back the layers that have shielded him for so long. We first meet Michael spending the summer cleaning his school, which serves as the first part of his two-part sentence after detonating his locker in an ill-conceived attempt to destroy his ex-best-friend's car. Through Moe's simple, yet, descriptive, writing, we soon realize that being condemned to custodial work and having to repeat his senior year are the least of Michael's worries. I go out to my car ... Read the full text
A 52-HERTZ WHALE by Bill Sommer and Natalie Haney Tilghman Carolrhoda Lab, 197 pages reviewed by Kristie Gadson When a humpback whale becomes separated from its pod, it emits a unique song in an effort to find its way back to its loved ones. When certain people experience feelings of isolation, they seek companionship through indirect social interaction. Bill Sommer and Natalie Haney Tilghman's A 52-Hertz Whale explores the nature of loneliness through a series of email correspondences, all between people with little else in common other than the desire for understanding. From the conversations of these starkly different people springs a series of beautiful, if uncanny, friendships. A 52 Hertz-Whale reveals that some of the most meaningful relationships can be forged even when the only thing we have in common is the fear of being alone. Fourteen-year-old James Turner ("[email protected]") sends his first email after discovering that his adopted humpback whale, Salt, was separated from its migratory pod. Recent film graduate Darren Olmstead ("[email protected]") receives the long email detailing James' efforts to uncover the lost whale’s whereabouts, and a plea for Darren's assistance. What a kid from a middle school social skills class wants with the guy who ... Read the full text