I’ve started out 2019 by reading about some real badass girls and I dig it! Check out these reviews of Slayer – a continuation of the Buffyverse – and Watch Us Rise – about two girls who make some noise.
Slayer by Kiersten White
*Please note this includes minor spoilers about Buffy*
A lot was working against me and this book. I’m a big Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan. I don’t read fan fiction and not really into that side of things. I didn’t know what happened in the comic seasons between the tv show and this book. I had a hard time with the writing style. I almost put this book down so many times but I did finish it! It did get better for me, but it was a bit of a painful process.
This isn’t fan fiction, I will clarify, and I know it’s accepted as canon, but it just felt so different to me. Nina is part of the Watchers world – the people who were once tasked with protecting the Slayers. But the Watchers have had a rough go of it since Buffy dismissed herself from their stead. Their headquarters were blown up in the last season of the show, and the few remaining Watchers and their families have been on the run ever since. Now in Ireland, they live in their castle and wonder what to do with themselves without being able to protect the hundreds of slayers that were activated at the end of the show. Nina’s father was Buffy’s first Watcher – the one who told her of her destiny in LA. But he was killed on duty. And then Buffy ended all of magic in order to save the world in one of the comic seasons. All of these happenings mean that Nina really hates Buffy. Like a lot. So much so that she repeats it constantly. So for someone who enjoyed Buffy, to come right into this was kind of off-putting in a way. But it was the repetition that really bugged me.
Anyways. Nina’s been feeling weird lately, but hasn’t told anyone. When she surprisingly took down a hellhound on castle grounds, her worst fears are confirmed: she is a slayer. The last one, in fact, to be activated before magic disappeared. There’s a ton of angst around this, which is to be expected, but it did grate on me after a while. Then there’s Nina’s relationship with her twin sister Artemis and their mother, full of so much tension and confusion. Nina spends the book constantly questioning everything that it gets a little out of control. Everyone expected Artemis to be the star – she’s strong, smart, and a natural leader. Their mother even saved Artemis first when their house was on fire, so that’s left Nina feeling traumatized for sure. With her new slayer power, the dynamic in the family has shifted. I liked this aspect since in the Buffy show, Joyce (<3) was just a lovely regular person, and Dawn was a whiny ball of light. So for a whole family to be involved in this way was interesting to me. Even when Nina starts suspecting her mom has been up to something.
The story continues involving more demons, a fight club, creepy dreams, and a lot of backstabbing. I wasn’t fully invested in all of it, especially the fight club stuff because it just felt so unoriginal. There’s a cute guy too of course, and I liked his role in the story.
I’m not sure if I’ll continue with the series. I am not someone who usually does, especially when years pass between books. I had to do a bunch of Wiki-ing to remember details or find out what happened in the comics. I’m not sure if the writing style will change. I’m very thankful to Simon & Schuster and Netgalley for the advance reading copy, and I’m glad I read the whole thing, but I think I might be too much of a purist for these revamps! (Pun intended.)
Watch Us Rise by Renée Watson and Ellen Hagan
I didn’t end up reading a lot of girl power type books last year. Most of the new books that seemed to fall in that category included sexual assault, and I just couldn’t handle that in 2018. I don’t want to diss books like that because they are incredibly important. Watch Us Rise doesn’t start with assault but it does deal with the topic at one point, in a different way. This book is all about girls standing up for themselves, making noise, and not stepping down when faced with being silenced.
Jasmine and Chelsea are angry. Angry at everything. Jasmine’s father is dying of cancer, she can’t stand shopping and the limitations for a fat girl, and she’s being racially pigeon-holed into upsetting roles in her theatre group. Chelsea rages against media’s role in the concept of beauty and how it affects girls, how her poetry club doesn’t seem to take modern poetry seriously, and sexist expectations on the women around her.
Both Jasmine and Chelsea are writers – Jasmine tends to write more free form prose, and Chelsea writes poetry (the author who wrote this character is a poet, so the poetry is actually really good!), but sometimes I got confused on which character I was reading because they could sound quite similar. The girls end up dramatically quitting their clubs at school, and decide to start a new club for feminists with a blog, called Write Like a Girl.
Then for a good chunk of the book the girls are put in a series of situations you know will piss them off, from a gross encounter on the subway to a shopping trip to a family dinner, so in that sense it got a little predictable, but I don’t think it was terrible. Unfortunately these situations are real. It just felt kind of crammed together. Each situation prompts a new post on the blog and then they go viral. But for being at a social justice focused high school (those exist now?), their male principal is considerably far behind, and threatens to cancel the club when he thinks the girls have stepped too far over some invisible boundary. I can understand a school not wanting to be responsible for the actions of some kids rioting against universal issues, but you’d think for a social justice school they’d stand behind their students. A-nope. (Well the teachers do. Yeah teachers!)
It was awesome to see the impact the girls made on their loved ones, classmates, and neighbours. It was also kind of great to see them put in their place sometimes. There’s a moment when Chelsea remarks to her teacher that it’s sexist she needs to go home and make dinner for a man, to which the teacher replies that she actually likes cooking and is in fact married to a woman. Context! This shows that it’s good to be angry but it’s also good to look at things from multiple angles. The times we live in are complicated.
I really felt for Jasmine, and had a bit of a hard time feeling for Chelsea but I think that was kind of intended. Jasmine is precious and hurting, while Chelsea is loud and excitable. But they work together well, and they even teach each other lessons, which I think was one of the best things to show in the book.
I think the authors did a really good job with this idea, and it’ll be an awesome read for teens. I wish I had something like this when I was a teenager. I think if it had a bit more tightening up (it was a lot longer than it could’ve been), it would be stronger, but there is so much strength in there it’s like a month’s worth of protein. Get em, girls!!