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Entertainment Weekly

Book Reviews

EW talks YA: One of our favorite teen tales of the year takes July's top spot

Imprint; Henry Holt and Company

Posted on

EW is here to provide reviews and recommendations for the biggest new YA titles. Looking back on July titles, we’ve reviewed one of the year’s buzziest new fantasies, as well as one of our very favorite teen tales of 2019. Check out our roundup below, and in case you missed our column from June, we’ve got you covered.

July’s Top Pick: Symptoms of a Heartbreak, by Sona Charaipotra

On the surface, 16-year-old Saira is like most teens. She’s eager to earn her driver’s license, longs to be independent from her overbearing mother, and works hard not to embarrass herself in front of her crush. Yet there’s one distinguishing factor that sets apart the heroine of Symptoms of a Heartbreak from her peers: Saira is a genius who, despite her tender age, is in her first year as a pediatric oncology intern at New Jersey’s Princeton Presbyterian Hospital.

Though she’s entrusted with the lives of ailing children, she has yet to earn the respect of her colleagues, including her disapproving supervisor Dr. Davis. She also struggles to navigate the racial prejudices she faces as an Indian-American woman. When she finds herself falling for Lincoln “Link” Rad, a leukemia patient in need of a bone marrow donor, she enlists the aid of her social media–savvy friends to help him. All the while, she holds on to the memory of her best friend Harper, who died from the illness while the two were growing up. Saira’s connection to the child proves deeply moving, as she derives both comfort and motivation from her vivid memory of the little girl.

Much of the reprieve from the pressure she’s under comes from her family, who are portrayed with such richness, one can’t help but feel transported right to their dinner table. Though Saira grapples with the constraints of their traditional values to a degree, she is largely supported and elevated by them — making for the story’s most uplifting sequences. The cultural undertones are given an additional element of authenticity with the inclusion of Hindi and Punjabi dialogue.

A rare glimpse into the emotional toll working in the medical field takes, Sona Charaipotra’s deeply moving story is informative and thought-provoking. The writer, who previously co-authored the Tiny Pretty Things series, distinctly captures a youthful and naive voice with astuteness woven in. She delicately balances the haunting realities of grief and despair with a nuanced lightness and warmth. —Justine Browning

Grade: A

The Merciful Crow, by Margaret Owen

We’ve entered into a wonderfully ambitious magic system based on castes, birds, and bones. As a Crow — the lowest caste and a nomadic group in charge of mercifully killing those suffering from the plague — young Fie is learning how to harness her powers as a bone witch in training for her to become chief. A wrench is thrown in her plans when the Crown Prince, Jasimir, and his body-double fake his death. Together, they enlist Fie’s band of Crows to help stop the evil plot of a ruthless Queen.

Welcome to The Merciful Crow. This has everything a YA fantasy should: an intriguing world, unique magic, a slow(ish)-burn romance between a noble and a not-so-noble. But Margaret Owen’s debut novel also has a clear, sharp message to send, about the tolls of discrimination. Hate shows itself as the nobles travel with a band of Crows; the law-enforcement organization known as the Hawks are often involved in horrific attacks. Owen delineates the transformation of the privileged as they realize how the system they protect and uphold is actually oppressive to certain groups. Though this takes place in a land of magic and bird-castes, the eerie parallels between reality and Owen’s fantasy world make it near impossible to ignore how important the novel’s message is in today’s society.

There’s amazingly unique world-building here, not to mention the heartstopping romantic tension and poignant lessons to take away. But The Merciful Crow struggles at times in its pacing. Fie often gets stuck in her own head, repeating the same things over and over until they lose their power. (“When, not if,” she repeats to herself about anything bad that pops into her head.) Fortunately, Owen makes sure there is plenty more left to do in her imaginative world. After all, there is still an evil queen to dethrone. —Caroline Tew

Grade: B

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