None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio

None of the AboveNone of the Above by I.W. Gregorio
My rating: 4 of 5 teacups


I tried to hold things together, but I could feel pieces of myself crumbling, turning to dust.
“It’s not fair. I’m a girl.” My voice came out in a whisper.

2015 so far seems to be an excellent year for YA contemporary. I’m always the kind of person who finds myself attracted to books that promise breathtaking fantasy, magic, prophecies and fast-paced action, and yet so many of those books feel like carbon copies of older works lately. Contemporary has been kicking fantasy’s ass with powerful and important tales that need to be told. All the Rage and Little Peach are two others that come to mind.

Do you remember the controversy over Caster Semenya at the World Championships in 2009? Gender testing had found she had four times the normal amount of testosterone for a woman and “might be part-man”. There were those who demanded that it was unfair to allow a woman with male parts to compete in female races. And there were those who were outraged at the way Caster was humiliated and paraded before the press when she was, in fact, a woman but has Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS).

Well, this book is about a teenage girl called Kristin who has a full college scholarship, two best friends and a boyfriend who loves her. Until one night she tries to have sex with her boyfriend and something seems to be not quite right. A visit to the doctor reveals that she has AIS, will never get her period or have children, and has testicles inside her body. Having to come to terms with this would be hard enough, but when her secret is leaked to the whole school, she has to deal with all the bullying that follows.

Will her friends still support her? Can her boyfriend still love someone who has male parts? It’s hard not to become so caught up in this story and feel sorry for Kristin at every turn. Kids are so ignorant and quick to judge, and Kristin is finding that out at the hardest time of her life.

The author doesn’t miss this interesting opportunity to have a discussion about gender, identity and what it truly means to be either male or female. Is there any difference between men and women, beyond the way we treat them? It’s an incredibly important book. Both informative and emotional, balanced between educating its readers and drawing them into the personal turmoil of Kristin’s life.

There have been a couple of contemporary YA books lately that have made me emotional, but I’ve managed to hold off on any actual crying right until the end… and then I read the author’s note about their reasons for writing this particular story and the tears just start to come. Fantasy might be full of fast-paced nastiness that has your eyes glued to the page but, believe me, real life does too.

The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows

The Orphan Queen (The Orphan Queen, #1)The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows
My rating: 2 of 5 teacups

How many YA fantasy novels have you read?

Because I think your enjoyment of The Orphan Queen depends on your answer. This book is not terrible, it is just completely unremarkable. It contains familiar elements that you may recognize from other YA fantasy-lite series – Throne of Glass, Shadow and Bone and the more recent Red Queen, to name but a few.

It’s a deceptively short novel – my ipad averaged 1% progression per page – so I’m surprised the final copy rolls in at 400 pages. Our protagonist is Wilhelmina, the former heir to the throne of her homeland. However, her kingdom was conquered and now she is an Osprey – a kind of street gang of thieves. Assuming the identity of nobles from a wraith-fallen kingdom, her and Melanie infiltrate the Skyvale palace.

Okay, so first we have the good old ban on magic – a favourite of fantasy authors. Then we have royal politics and a throne at the centre of a dispute about who belongs on it. Then we have the heroine pretending to be someone else whilst socializing with the royal enemy – which I’m sure, if I remember correctly, happens in some form in Throne of Glass, Shadow and Bone and Red Queen.

Plus, the whole infiltration of the palace seems very ill-planned. I got the sense that Wilhelmina and Melanie didn’t have a damn clue what they were doing. They turned up, put on pretty gowns, danced at a ball, disliked bitchy women with better curves and flirted with soldiers. If any useful information about the kingdom happened to fall in their laps while they were busy twirling around and drinking wine, then it wasn’t because of anything clever or sneaky that they did.

The most exciting and unique things about this novel are the least explored. One being the Ospreys, and the other being the masked vigilante called The Black Knife. Neither get much page time. And I suppose I should mention at some point that there is almost zero world-building. The closest thing we get to that is when Connor and Ezra recite the history of magic and the kingdoms in chapter one; it feels like a very awkward way to try and slip in some world background.

I am thankful for the lack of romance, but the plot just feels so recycled and Wilhelmina never inspired any kind of emotion in me. Also, this is just speculation so take it with a pinch of salt, but I definitely see potential for a future love triangle brewing in here.

Recommended for YA fantasy newcomers or those who genuinely do enjoy reading similar things again and again.