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Highlights in the Charts

By Robyn Hewson, Daisy Saunders and Alex Haywood

Dominicana by Angie Cruz

Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020, Cruz’s latest novel explores the themes of migration, sexuality, family and isolation, against the backdrop of 1960s America.

Dominicana centres on Ana, a fifteen-year-old girl from the Dominican Republic, who marries an older man and follows him to New York to start a new life. To begin with, she is filled with hope and eager to continue her studies in America. But she soon becomes disillusioned, scared to leave the flat and brave the streets of New York City, and alienated by her inability to speak English.

Ana’s strong narrative voice and her determination to make a better life for herself and her family shines through the novel. Although Cruz explores distressing themes like domestic abuse and political violence, Ana’s ability to find small moments of joy and hopefulness among the turmoil brings a sense of warmth and vitality to the story.

Throughout the novel, there is a conflict between Ana’s duty to her family and her individual desires. Frustratingly, this is not resolved in the ending of the novel, leaving the reader to decide for themselves which path Ana chooses for her future.

Dominicana becomes even more powerful when you consider Cruz’s inspiration for the novel. In the acknowledgements, Cruz reveals she wrote the story as a tribute to her mother, who also emigrated to America from the Dominican Republic. As a result, Ana becomes a symbol for all the women, past and present, who have made a similar journey in search of a better life.

A Court of Thorn and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses has been circulating everywhere on my bookstagram feed since it hit #1 in the New York Times bestselling charts in 2015. Six years later with five sequels, a novella and rumours of a possible Hulu series on the horizon, I finally thought it was time to see what all the fuss surrounding Sarah J. Maas’ fantasy series was about.

It has all of the makings of a pleasurable, easy-reading YA fantasy novel: romance, magic, world-building, supernatural creatures (faeries - but not the cute and pretty kind), a brooding female protagonist and an even broodier male love interest. It even comes with a glossary of terms at the back of the book for those fantasy names that you just can’t pronounce. But something about this novel was just...pretty cringeworthy.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a fairytale rewrite as much as the next person (the story is very clearly influenced by the Beauty and the Beast narrative) but something about the novel just possessed an ‘ick’ factor. Perhaps it was the explicit sex scenes - they felt wrong in the context of a YA fantasy book whose following is primarily split between adults and underage audiences. The only character whose unique qualities I did appreciate was ultimately killed off at the end.

Despite this, the climax of the narrative still managed to redeem its otherwise questionable qualities. So I will be reading the next instalment (A Court of Mist and Fury), albeit apprehensively.

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L.D. Lapinski

Flic is bored. She’s moved away from her friends to a new town where she knows nobody. The move and her baby brother, Freddy, are taking all of her parent’s attention, so she’d better amuse herself, and what better way than exploring?

Flic is desperate to travel so when she meets Jonathan, custodian of the Strangeworld’s travel agency, she jumps at the chance to do so. This is no ordinary travel agency, though. Instead, Jonathan’s little shop is home to thousands of suitcases all of which are portals to new worlds. Transported to twinkling cities and enchanted forests, Flic can’t believe her luck. But something isn’t right.

A bewitching, sparky story of exploration and gaining independence, L.D. Lapinski has captured exactly what we all want when stumbling across a dusty old shop – a little bit of magic. The Strangeworlds Travel Agency is brimming with adventure, with every turn presenting something new and exciting. This is Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea for middle grade readers. Lapinski’s world-building is warm and charismatic. Never has there been a more fantastical take on packing up your suitcase. The growing friendship between Flic and Jonathan is endearing, and proves that you can find magic anywhere if only you know where to look.

The first in a new series, with book two publishing this April, it’s time to enrol as a member of The Strangeworld’s Society. For readers aged 9+.



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