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The Belles
2018
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  New York Times Review

NOW, MORE THAN anytime in recent history, we're hearing the triumphant roar of women of color as they break down longstanding barriers in art, film and literature. In young adult literature in particular, inventive, international stories told in newly empowered women's voices are claiming their rightful place at the table. Take these five new Y.A. books, ranging from fantasy to realistic fiction to memoir. In these authors' hands, non-Western sensibilities might reign in a vivid and original Yoruban religion-based world, or classical settings might be reinterpreted to create a universe in which beauty is not tied to race. A heartbreaking fictional front row seat to the Syrian refugee emergency is offset by a humorous true tale of growing up an Iranian-American immigrant without a green card. And a very modern romance proves that, despite divides both cultural and digital, love still wins. So do YA. readers, when it comes to seeing exhilaratingly new kinds of characters sharing space. In Dhonielle Clayton's lavish fantasy the BELLES (FREEFORM, $17.99; AGES 14 TO 17), a thing of beauty is only temporary. The decadent island society of Orleans is home to a select group of sisters born with the disconcerting ability to perform plastic surgery without the plastic. As "descendants of the goddess of beauty," the Belles have a fuzzily explained magical "arcana" in their blood that allows them to temporarily change the physical appearance of the native Gris, who are cursed with gray skin and red eyes. After a childhood of training, the teenage Belles are introduced to upper-class society and tasked with transforming the hair, skin and bone structure of the race-fluid rich and royal. But when the rebellious Belle Camellia uncovers a plot by the truly vile Princess Sophia to enslave her and her sisters, she sows the seeds of a grass-roots revolution that is bound to blossom more fully in the inevitable sequel. Clayton, a co-founder of the We Need Diverse Books organization, has created an opulent mash-up setting, which seems to be a cherry-picked combination of 18thcentury France, Japan and the antebellum American South. If it never quite coalesces into a seamless cultural whole, readers seduced by the page-turning palace intrigue and the vivid food and clothing descriptions won't notice or care. Magic also lies dormant in the platelets of chosen teenagers in the Nigerian-American Tomi Adeyemi's debut, children of BLOOD AND BONE (HOLT, $18.99; AGES 12 AND UP). But these diviners are no debutantes. Born with snow white hair and deep brown skin in the imaginary country of Orisha, young diviners morph into mighty, magicwielding maji, or magicians, at 13. For centuries they relied on their powers (which Adeyemi based on aspects of the religion of the Yoruban people of West Africa). All that ended when the nonmagical King Saran ordered the slaughter of all adult majis. But when a mysterious scroll falls into the hands of Amari, a defiant princess, and Zélie, a tenacious diviner warrior, the two young women set out on a thrilling, deathdefying journey to restore magic and take back the throne. Black Girl Magic, indeed! ft's no surprise that this epic trilogy opener has already been optioned for film. Full of cinematic action sequences (the most memorable of them set almost entirely underwater and employing an army of the dead) and creatures worthy of Star Wars (horsesize "lionaires" have saber teeth and horns), it storms the boundaries of the imagination. Yet it also confronts the conscience. Adeyemi's brutally depicted war between the noble, lighter-skinned kosidans and the enslaved, darker-skinned majis poses thought-provoking questions about race, class and authority that hold up a warning mirror to our sharply divided society. Atia Abawi mixes a fantasy element with extreme realism in her second novel, A LAND OF PERMANENT GOODBYES (PHILOMEL, $17.99; ages 13 and up). Tareq is a Syrian refugee whose perilous journey is narrated by the voice of Destiny, characterized as a kindly, prosaic entity. After Tareq's mother, grandmother and four of his siblings are killed by a bomb, he and his father flee to Türkey with his remaining sister, Susan. They hopscotch from Türkey to Greece, Serbia, Slovenia, Austria and finally to Germany, where he finds a fragile safety. Along the way he witnesses beheadings and drownings, but also experiences the kindness of aid workers like Alexia, an American student. Abawi, a foreign news correspondent, does an admirable job of showing the grim horror of refugee life. But her efforts are occasionally undermined by cartoonish villains ("You tink you will be saved? Who will save you? Captain America is not real, just movies") and by some of Destiny's well-meaning but obvious platitudes: "When you truly love someone, their life means more to you than your own." These interruptions may pull readers out of the story, though perhaps that distance is necessary for adolescents trying to process something as bleak and overwhelming as the Syrian refugee crisis. Of course, once refugees finally arrive in their adopted country, new problems arise. Until she was 13, Sara Saedi, an franianAmerican television writer and the author of the memoir Americanized: rebel without A GREEN CARD (RANDOM HOUSE, $17.99, ages 12 and up), was cheerfully oblivious of her family's immigration status. After her older sister breaks the news that they are "illegal," Saedi suffers through the usual teenage rites of passage at her Silicon Valley high school (unibrow management, pimple wars, pot smoking) with the added pressure of possible deportation hanging over her head. Saedi adroitly and humorously uses these universal pubescent ordeals to contextualize Iranian culture and the immigrant experience. A memory of being teased about her eyebrow in ninth grade expands into a discussion of beauty norms: When her mother praises her for being hairless, "she meant by Persian woman standards. 1 was still hairy by everyone else's standards." And she has the sobering realization that pot is a privilege American teenagers can enjoy, but not undocumented kids: "ff 1 got caught, I'd have a criminal record that could be grounds for deportation." Very funny but never flippant, Saedi mixes '90s pop culture references, adolescent angst and Iranian history into an intimate, informative narrative that thoroughly defies current divisive views on immigration. Mary H.K. Choi's blushingly tender and piquant debut novel, emergency contact (SIMON & SCHUSTER, $17.99; AGES 14 AND UP), about two isolated, misfit college students from Austin who fall in love via text message explores our emotional rather than geographical divides. In "Emergency Contact," a Korean-American would-be writer named Penny keeps everyone at a distance, the result of living with a single, oversharing mom she calls "the equivalent of... human glitter." But when she rescues Sam, a half-German, half-Polish student filmmaker, from the sidewalk during a panic attack, she becomes his "emergency contact," and he hers. Their charged, initial banter on text soon develops into increasingly personal exchanges about art, death, unstable moms and pregnant ex-girlfriends. Yet their burgeoning bond keeps stalling out. Burned by past relationships and millennial-ly tethered to their devices, they struggle to connect romantically IRL. Sam "couldn't imagine the space Penny would take up in his life if she sprang out of his phone," and Penny admits "Sam was her phone and her phone was Sam." Choi, a culture correspondent for HBO's Vice News, inserts timely issues like sexual assault, cultural appropriation and even DACA into her characters' intimate conversations, but it is her examination of digital vs. F2F communication that feels the most immediate. Has digital communication become so ubiquitous, and interpersonal contact so arduous, that we'd rather type than talk? Thankfully, no. Penny and Sam put down their phones long enough to make out, proving that touch trumps text, and hormones still conquer all. jennifer HUBERT swan is the director of library services at the Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School. She blogs at Reading Rants.

  Publishers Weekly Review

Sixteen-year-old sisters Camellia, Edelweiss, Ambrosia, Padma, Valeria, and Hana are the new generation of Belles, young women who are responsible for keeping the citizens of Orléans beautiful, magically transforming their appearances to align with the latest trends. Descendants of the Goddess of Beauty, the Belles are paid to perform their magic to prevent their people from reverting to pallid, red-eyed creatures, their natural state. Talented Camellia believes that she will be selected as the Queen's favorite, a role the sisters covet deeply. But when another Belle is chosen, and Camellia is assigned to a teahouse to perform beauty rituals on the wealthy, she begins to wonder if what she has always believed about the Belles is true. Clayton (coauthor of Tiny Pretty Things) creates a vivid island world in this enticing series opener, saturating the narration with lush descriptions ("Carts hold tiers of pastries frosted in rose-petal pinks and pearly whites and apple reds, flutes overflow with jewel-tone liquids") that reflect the culture's obsession with elegance, appearance, and luxury. Readers will be left with much to consider about morality, individuality, and the malleability and artificiality of beauty. Ages 14-up. Agent: Victoria Marini, Irene Goodman Literary. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

  School Library Journal Review

Gr 8 Up-When the Goddess paid more attention to her children, the humans, the God of the Sky became jealous and cursed them to have skin of colorless sky. Never one to abandon her children, Beauty created The Belles to bring beauty back to the damned. Camillia Beauregard and her sisters are Belles, vessels of beauty, and their time has come to save Orleans from a life of unbearable sameness, but they must first be placed in houses. The coveted position is The Favorite, and to serve the royal family. Camillia desires to be chosen Favorite like her mother and when her time comes to shine, she is unforgettable. Sophia the Queen Regent does not forget her. As Camillia begins her life of royal servitude, she starts to see the underbelly of her world-mysterious cries within the walls, veiled Belles of a time passed, and people who risk their lives to be beautiful. The grandest realization is the volatile temperament of Sophia. Camillia must make a choice-be the vessel of beauty and follow every command or use her powers to save her world from Sophia. Clayton has created a world full of lush colors, beautiful people, and delicious desserts. Strong themes are interwoven in this fantasy, including choice and envy. This work challenges readers to reflect on their notions of beauty. Through the actions of the characters, teens will understand what a beauty-obsessed world really looks like and that possessing conviction and selflessness is just as beautiful as outward appearances. VERDICT A must-have addition to libraries with fans of The Selection by Kiera Cass.-Dawn Abron, Zion-Benton Public Library, IL © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Summary
Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orleans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orleans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.<br> <br> But it's not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite, the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orleans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. <br> But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie, that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.<br> <br> With the future of Orleans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide: save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles, or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.<br> <br>
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