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Sarah Gailey’s Book List with Four Words on Each

Sarah Gailey book recommendations

Sirens Guest of Honor Sarah Gailey shares a recommended reading list, with four descriptors for each. If you enjoy Sarah’s work, or you want a recommended reading list of exceptional works, this list is for you. Take it away, Sarah!

 

To Be Taught, If Fortunate

To Be Taught, If Fortunate
by Becky Chambers

beautiful
hopeful
honest
tender

The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian
by Han Kang

intense
harrowing
scathing
brutal

The Need

The Need
by Helen Phillips

gripping
dark
furious
surprising

Sisters of the Vast Black

Sisters of the Vast Black
by Lina Rather

unflinching
kind
confrontational
sweet

The Prince and the Dressmaker

The Prince and the Dressmaker
by Jen Wang

lovely
aching
immersive
perfect

An Unkindness of Ghosts

An Unkindness of Ghosts
by Rivers Solomon

cutthroat
direct
relentless
brilliant

The Only Harmless Great Thing

The Only Harmless Great Thing
by Brooke Bolander

furious
dazzling
ambitious
satisfying


Sarah Gailey Book Recommendations

Hugo Award winner and bestselling author Sarah Gailey is an internationally published writer of fiction and nonfiction. Their nonfiction has been published by Mashable and the Boston Globe, and they won a Hugo award for Best Fan Writer. Their most recent fiction credits include Vice and The Atlantic. Their debut novella, River of Teeth, was a 2018 Hugo and Nebula award finalist. Their bestselling adult novel debut, Magic for Liars, was published in 2019; their latest novella, Upright Women Wanted, was published in February 2020. Their young adult novel debut, When We Were Magic, came out in March 2020.

For more information about Sarah, please visit her website or her Twitter.

American Hippo by Sarah Gailey: Sirens Book Reviews

In honor of Sarah Gailey’s Guest of Honor week at Sirens, today not one, but two members of the Sirens Review Squad tackle American Hippo, the collection volume that includes novellas River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow, as well as two shorter works. The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers who submit reviews of speculative works by women or nonbinary authors that they’ve read and enjoyed. If you’re interested in sending us a review, please email us!


River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

HALLIE TIBBETTS

Before I read River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey, I believed I knew the following facts about hippos:

  1. There is a hippo named Fiona, who lives in a zoo somewhere, that people like a lot.

  2. Hippos eat a lot and poop a lot. In fact, they are champion poopers and thus need quite a bit of personal space.

  3. Hippos can’t jump.

  4. Hippos can kill people if you bother them. If you are farming reeds and pomegranates for the pharaoh, they might kill you even if you don’t bother them, because they’re upset that you’re not sharing or something. (I learned this from a video game.)

  5. There is a game called Hungry Hungry Hippos. Perhaps you have played it.

  6. Pretending you are playing Hungry Hungry Hippos is one way to complete a chore commonly known as “vacuuming.”

The idea for River of Teeth comes from a little-known but verifiable fact: At one time, the United States needed meat and considered hippo ranching in Louisiana. Yes, raising those dangerous, enormous beasts to grace our plates. Imagine it: a hippopotamus porterhouse with all the sides. Some of the largest beef porterhouses are 40 ounces, or 1.134 kilograms for the metric folks. Now, all things won’t be equal, but if an average steer weighs about 750 pounds (340 kg), and an average male hippo weighs about 3,300 pounds (1,500 kg), your server would be bringing you a porterhouse coming in just under 11 pounds, or about 5 kilograms. So of course this incredible excess might have seemed like an excellent enterprise to carnivorous folk.

In the end, the hippo did not enter the pantheon of sounds we make during a rousing performance of “Old MacDonald.”

But River of Teeth imagines they did—and that some hippos escaped their fate to infest part of the lower Mississippi, and went feral between the boundary of an upstream dam and a downstream gate. Our story begins when a group of hoppers—think cowhand, perhaps a term for anyone who can ride a domesticated hippo—is tasked by leader Winslow Houndstooth, who’s been contracted by the federal government, to get the feral hippos past the confining gate and out into the Gulf.

And this (very diverse) group of hoppers is wild. They’ve got skills ranging from thievery to explosives to murder. There is absolutely no question about the grayness of these morally gray characters, and nearly all whom they meet, as they lie, cheat, con, and otherwise go about the business of a feral hippo drive. (There will be violence, and it will be explicit.) It’s refreshing to encounter intriguing characters who are more intense and complicated than lovable rogues with hearts of gold, but who act in ways consistent and logical.

Another delightful aspect of River of Teeth is its specific way of incorporating history. There’s a sense of the stretch pre- and post-Civil War when this could have happened, and enough details for the reader to fill in the worldbuilding without overexplaining in this novella. Of course there would be steamboats hosting gamblers in hippo-infested waters; of course your local watering hole would need an actual watering hole for hippo storage instead of a hitching post.

Finally, this fast-paced read stands alone, but leads into a related novella and short stories—and no spoilers, but if you’re the sort of reader who, like me, ever enjoyed letting Godzilla loose in SimCity and is entertained by the speculative destruction in movies like Volcano (1997) or San Andreas (2015), there is satisfying chaos in store.

With hippos.


KAREN BAILEY

Sarah Gailey’s American Hippo gathers all of their stories (two novellas and two short stories) about an alternate version of the American West where hippo ranches line rivers and feral hippos roam the Mississippi River.

These stories are quirky, violent capers with a dangerous cast of characters—and that is just talking about the hippos!

The stories are based around the real proposition made in 1910 to import hippopotamuses from Africa to the Gulf Coast of the United States and raise them as a source of meat. While in reality, the scheme never came to fruition, Gailey moved the beginnings of the scheme back to 1857 and set their stories in the late 1800s. In this alternate history, the United States government dammed up a section of the Mississippi River in Louisiana to create more land for hippo ranching. Eventually, this section of the river, known as the “Harriet,” transformed itself from orderly hippo ranches to dangerous real estate filled with feral hippos and unsavory people.

It is in this world that Gailey’s work takes place. The first novella, River of Teeth, introduces Winslow Remington Houndstooth (with hippo Ruby). He is a former hippo rancher-turned-thief, who has accepted a commission from the United States government to rid the Harriet of the feral hippos. He gathers together demolitions expert Hero Shackleby (with hippo Abigail), con artist Regina “Archie” Archambault (with hippo Rosa), and mercenary Adelia Reyes (with hippos Zahra and Stasia). On the surface, this seems like an odd combination of people to gather to rid an area of feral hippos. However, ridding the Harriet of feral hippos is not Houndstooth’s only objective; rather, he plans to use the commission to strike a blow at corrupt businessman Travers. Travers runs a series of riverboats and he rules those with absolute authority: If you are caught cheating, you will be immediately thrown to the feral hippos in the river. We also find out that Travers had Houndstooth’s hippo ranch burned down, leaving him with nothing but debt and one baby hippo.

River of Teeth is a fast-paced, fun, and gory heist story with a twist of revenge.

There is a fair amount of violence and not just from encounters with feral hippos. Houndstooth and company are all willing to do whatever they have to do to protect themselves. It is fascinating to see their relationships grow through the story. While Hero, Archie, and Adelia originally agree to join Houndstooth’s crew for mostly monetary reasons, their focus changes throughout the story and that change is one of the most satisfying aspects of Gailey’s work. The ending of River of Teeth wraps up enough to feel finished, but also leaves the door open for the next installment.

Taste of Marrow, the second novella of the collection, deals with the aftermath of the events in River of Teeth and has a much more somber feel. The group has been separated. Adelia and Hero are dealing with the aftermath of Hero’s injuries, the birth of Adelia’s daughter, and the bounty on Adelia’s head. Houndstooth is desperately trying to find Hero, while Archie is trying to keep Houndstooth alive and preferably clear-headed. This story shows a different view of the characters. While they were focused on money and revenge in the first story, now they are focused on reuniting with each other and eliminating the obstacles that prevent that reunion. It’s a messy, difficult journey that shows the challenges they face to continue to grow into a family. It’s hard for a bunch of people who are borderline criminals to have a relaxing retirement, but the ending does hint that this might be possible.

The two short stories included in American Hippo are much more light-hearted than either River of Teeth or Taste of Marrow, and expand on two incidents that are mentioned in the novellas. In “Worth Her Weight in Gold,” Houndstooth’s baby hippo has grown up into his mount Ruby. She is an ornery, vain hippo who would just as soon chomp on you as look at you, but she loves Houndstooth and he loves her. However, when he is on a job, Houndstooth isn’t always as careful about Ruby’s tooth care as he should be. It is a quick read, but it shows just how much Houndstooth loves Ruby and exactly what he will give up for her health and happiness. It also gives us a close-up view of Ruby’s personality, which is a delightful mix of charm and chomping.

“Nine and a Half” tells the story of a job that Houndstooth and Archie pull together when they meet U.S. Marshal Gran Carter. It also answers the ongoing question of how many times Archie has saved Houndstooth—or does it? This story ends with an excellent escape scene, which is a fun glimpse into the more ridiculous side of Archie and Houndstooth.

American Hippo offers an alternate historical world with fast-paced action and complex characters. The hippos are an excellent addition to the story, showing a variety of personalities from calm and placid to high-strung and energetic. They provide a way for their owners to show their humanity because the people are a fascinating mix of characters, none of whom could be classified as actually “good” people. However, they are charismatic and complicated, loving to friends and devoted to their hippos, and they will cheerfully steal the ring from your finger if it will help them. I love the fact that it is based in a real proposition and plays with a might have been. I love the variety of personalities and motivations, but mostly, I love the fact that the hippos get a story where they can be as sweet and brutal as they are in real life.


When she is not wrangling students (and co-workers) for a music non-profit, Karen Bailey can often be found working on completing the Sirens Reading Challenge. She also keeps busy with quilting, crocheting, and paper-crafts.

Hallie Tibbetts works in children’s publishing, editing books for all ages. She has a love of adventure, travel, interesting food, and dinosaurs (preferably all at once). She is one of the founders of Narrate Conferences, the presenting organization behind Sirens, and has served in various roles, including conference chair and programming coordinator.

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey: Sirens Book Review

Magic for Liars Sarah Gailey

Back in the days of Harry Potter fandom, I often found myself on the side of Muggles, hating the way the books found casual cruelty towards them so funny, so deserving. I remember once talking with someone who was surprised to discover that I identified with the Muggles in the story when it never occurred to them that they wouldn’t be a wizard. I recall saying something like, “If you point a stick at a door and say something in fake-Latin, will the door open? No? Then you are a Muggle.”

At the time I thought I was just being logical, but it was more than that. I automatically assume that if I lived in a world where there were wizards or mutants or benders, I wouldn’t be one of them. And I’d be jealous. So I always identify with the also-ran, the ordinary person, the not-Chosen One, the B-student. And I identify with them as such. I don’t, as some prefer, like to imagine stories where it turns out everyone’s wrong or they’re misunderstood or simply have bad teachers. No, I find the plight of the non-gifted too compelling.

When I started reading Sarah Gailey’s Magic for Liars, I knew only that it was about a non-magical detective investigating a murder at the magical school where her estranged sister teaches. But I had no idea it would be so completely the story of the girl left behind. One that dealt with all the hopeless pain that brings, and the hard-won maturity and wisdom it could offer. Maturity and wisdom that could be denied those Chosen Ones with all the gifts.

Magic for Liars Review

A twist of DNA gave Ivy Gamble’s sister Tabitha all the magic and the psychological damage of that random gene mutation is intense. Some authors might have used Ivy’s jealousy and bitterness to turn her into a villain who attacks her sister, proving how she didn’t deserve magic anyway. (Looking at you, J.K. Rowling!) But Gailey’s heroine hurts nobody more than herself. She doesn’t notice when her lack of magic gives her a clearer view of the case than the mages around her—and Gailey never makes that blind spot so obvious as to feel condescending.

Ivy’s life experience also gives her a unique understanding of the teenagers she’s interviewing, one that I personally haven’t come across very much in YA. She understands how much they want to be the hero of the story—any story. She uses this understanding to manipulate them, yes, but not without respect. So many YA books are about teenagers thrust into adventure that gives their lives a clear purpose and tells them who they are. Gailey’s teenagers, though magical, are just stumbling around searching for that meaning. Ivy sometimes resents them for “wasting” their magic on silly things like pranks, but of course doesn’t know what she would have done with magic had she had any. Non-magical gifts can be wasted too.

The relationship between the two sisters, or the lack thereof, is at the center of the story, and Gailey doesn’t take the easy way out here either. Reading it, I felt my own emotions rising and falling along with Ivy’s, desperately wanting her to recapture the close bond with a sister she had in her childhood, fearing for her because of how much she wanted it, hoping she would get what she was looking for one minute, cynically pitying her for thinking she’d get it the next. I wanted to yell at Ivy that of course lying to anyone about her own magical status would come back to bite her, but when it did, I wanted to tell off any mage who held it against her.

There’s a moment in the book where Ivy describes herself and a magical character talking as if “speaking two different but peripheral languages.” Ivy and her sister are likewise living two different but peripheral life stories that may only occasionally and coincidentally connect. They’ve both been shaped by the exact same circumstances—their magical ability, the death of their mother, their father’s grief—and reacted to them in opposite ways that mirror their abilities—one forever defining herself as powerless, the other defining herself solely through her power. On paper they might have seemed destined to easily reunite and help each other. But life, even in a world where prophesies exist and bad memories can be extracted and thrown out like medical waste, is just not that fair.


Meg BelvisoMeg Belviso holds a BA in English from Smith College and an MFA from Columbia University. As a writer and editor, she chronicles angel encounters as staff editor of Angels on Earth magazine and has written for various fiction and nonfiction properties, including several biographies in Penguin’s Who Was…? series.

We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia: Sirens Book Review

We Set the Dark on Fire Tehlor Mejia

Confession: Sometimes I suspect I’m not a natural fantasy reader. That doesn’t mean I can’t love fantasy, of course, but where some people are automatically excited to be dropped into a new world they don’t know anything about yet, I’ve been known to read a book and think, “So…why isn’t this just set in regular California instead of California where some people do magic?”

I never thought that reading We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia.

The world here—and this is the main thing I wish for in a fantasy book—felt immediately logical and real, even before I’d begun to explore it. The story—and the island nation of Medio—begins with a myth about two brother gods fighting over a woman. But the story isn’t about gods behaving badly. The myth, for Medionites, is there to provide justification for how their society operates. Sons of privilege take two wives. One wife, the Primera, is chosen for her logical, analytical nature. She’s the wife he takes to a state dinner. The Segunda is chosen for her passion and beauty. She’s the mother of his children.

Such an arrangement might have come across as bizarre or worse, hopelessly contrived to put our heroine, Daniela Vargas, into the terrible position she finds herself in when she’s chosen by Medio’s most eligible, wealthy bachelor, a man many believe will one day be president. Instead, it felt completely organic. Not just the marital situation, but the elite finishing school that prepares girls for one wifely role or the other. And the parts of the island said to have been cursed by the vanquished god, a place where Medio’s poorest are exploited and hidden from the wealthier inhabitants by a wall. Inequality, in myth and practice, is part of Medio’s soul, so the elite would have us believe.

Then there’s the Segunda, the other wife Dani’s going to live with. Imagine your worst enemy in school. The girl you trust least in the whole world. Now imagine sharing your husband with her…while you’re being blackmailed into spying on him for a group of rebels. None of this is a spoiler. The minute you’re introduced to Dani’s situation you know where she’s quickly headed. You just don’t know how she’s going to handle it once it happens.

Dani’s situation is dire, but never bleak. I’ve heard Mejia’s world referred to as a dystopia, but the book felt too hopeful for that label to me. The young people in this world are ready to fight and love (did I mention there’s queer romance? There’s a queer romance!) and build a better future for themselves. The beauty and joy of Medio is never completely obscured by the greed and cruelty of its ruling class.

The stakes of the story are very clear, both for Dani and for the people of Medio. The danger is real, and it’s not at all clear that Dani is up to the task. She may have graduated finishing school with a degree in strategy, manipulation and repressed emotions, but she’s really none of those things at heart. Sometimes she does risky things for emotional reasons, but rather than being impatient with her, I just found myself rooting for her to get out of this alive.

I was rooting for the rebellion as well. The world of Medio is painfully relevant to our world, while still standing on its own as a fantasy creation. Latin American culture, class conflict and feminism are woven into the DNA of the book and Dani herself. Her parents sacrificed everything to lift her out of poverty and give her a better life, but can she in good conscience enjoy the good life herself knowing others just like her are still oppressed? Even if she wasn’t being blackmailed? Either way she chooses, she’d be letting someone down, so she can only choose based on who she, Dani, is…once she figures that out.


Meg BelvisoMeg Belviso holds a BA in English from Smith College and an MFA from Columbia University. As a writer and editor, she chronicles angel encounters as staff editor of Angels on Earth magazine and has written for various fiction and nonfiction properties, including several biographies in Penguin’s Who Was…? series.

Rin Chupeco’s Favorite SFF Books

Sirens Guest of Honor Rin Chupeco shares a list of favorite science fiction and fantasy works. If you’ve enjoyed Rin’s work, we encourage you to check out these other reads. Take it away, Rin!

 

Gideon the Ninth Tamsyn Muir

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

I cannot stop screaming about this series. Lesbian swordfighting necromancers arguing in space as they explore a haunted house space station is the wildest description I never thought I would want. Muir’s prose is gorgeous, and I have never wanted to paint my face like a skull till I read this book.

The Bear and the Nightingale Katherine Arden

Fantasy
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

How breathtaking is this book? A young Russian woman named Vasya who is worth her weight in magic, holding her own against a powerful zealot and the god of winter himself—this is a gorgeous, gorgeous delight.

Uprooted Naomi Novak

Science Fiction
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
I don’t know how to even begin to describe this book. It hits all my favorite tropes, from surly cranky broody magician to powerful magical girls who finally understand their own worth.

Magic for Liars Sarah Gailey

Science Fiction
Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
It’s a murder mystery at a magical school by a hard-knock private detective who is both seasoned and salty at the same time. I love a lot of Gailey’s works, and they are just fantastic at this.

An Unkindness of Magicians Kat Howard

An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard This is urban fantasy at its best, and this was an amazing read. I am a sucker for magical fighting tournaments and seedy moneyed politics.


 

Rin wrote obscure manuals for complicated computer programs, talked people out of their money at event shows, and did many other terrible things. They now write about ghosts and fantastic worlds but are still sometimes mistaken for a revenant. They are the author of The Girl from the Well and its sequel, The Suffering; The Bone Witch trilogy; The Never Tilting World duology; and the A Hundred Names for Magic series, starting with the first book, Wicked As You Wish. They were born and raised in the Philippines and, or so the legend goes, still haunt that place to this very day. For more information about Rin, please visit their website or their Twitter

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

Bone Witch Rin Chupeco

I’m going to confess: I picked up Rin Chupeco’s The Bone Witch with some trepidation. I had tried reading this YA fantasy before and stopped a few times before filing it away and ultimately restarting. The worldbuilding—freshly un-Eurocentric and inspired by the mythologies of the Middle East and Asia—was, at first, confusing. The novel’s structure demands time and patience, as it flips between short italicized chapters in the present, and longer, more narrative chapters set in the past before the storylines converge. And I’ll tell you upfront: Reading The Bone Witch is, at minimum, a two-book commitment—since the storylines don’t converge in the first book, nor the sequel. You’ll have to wait for the grand finale for that.

But damn, it’s so worth it.

Understanding The Bone Witch

And so, I do you a service because you all need to read these books. In the land of Eight Kingdoms, there are two rules of magic that, if you know them up front, will make the series easier to delve into. First is that magic is gendered in a fascinating and strange way. A chosen few have magic and can control the elements like fire, water, earth, etc. If you’re a girl when this talent is discovered, you are trained as an asha in the capital, where you learn how to wield your magic alongside learning etiquette, dancing, and entertaining heads of state in a diplomatic capacity. If you’re a boy, you’re conscripted into the Deathseeker army. There’s a lot to unpack here, especially through Likh, a trans girl who wishes to become an asha—and who is also one of my faves in this book.

And second, there’s a thing called a heartsglass that people wear around their neck, which is tied to one’s identity in complex ways. If your heartsglass turns silver, it means you have a capacity for magic; you can also give it away to a loved one in an act of romance or safety, but at the risk of that other person having control over you; if you are especially magically talented, you can read other people’s heartsglasses since they will change color depending on their true emotions (and you can tell if they’re lying to you).

What The Bone Witch is About

Then there’s Tea. We’re introduced to the world of The Bone Witch through Tea’s eyes, and she is only twelve at the beginning, when she inadvertently raises her brother, Fox, from the dead. It’s discovered that Tea is not only an asha, but a dark asha, with magic that allows her to raise and control the dead. And so, Tea is one of two bone witches in the realm, a profession that, despite its importance, is much maligned. Ever since The False Prince used death magic to raise the daeva, monsters that terrorize people every so often, bone witches have done the dirty work to keep them at bay and are tainted with that reputation by association.

The Bone Witch is a painstaking book of set-up. With uneven pacing, we get all the above, plus Tea’s origin story where she’s whisked away to the palace to train as an asha by the only other bone witch, Lady Mykaela. Despite her aptitude, she faces setbacks, including some pranks by fellow ashas-in-training, a training master who hates her, and mounds of backbreaking chores. She reaps chaos by not knowing how to control her power and accidentally raises dead kings and monsters. She catches the eye of the prince and his cranky cousin-slash-bodyguard, and is thrust into the royal court’s political machinations.

The biggest and most satisfying arc in this book is Tea’s relationship with her brother, Fox, where they learn these nice things called healthy boundaries and how to be a family despite the supernatural link between them.

But please, have patience. This is no worse than The Name of the Wind, which many of you have enthusiastically or like me, begrudgingly, read. You can see the schematic of something bigger before you—a cast of characters you will cheer on and love, a thoughtful musing on women rebelling against the roles their society has trapped them into, a descent into villainy (or anti-heroism? Let’s do some more unpacking) when justice is denied with each betrayal, and a girl who learns how to command her power despite the trauma inflicted on her by her peers and foes.

And I’ll just say, I’ll just say. There’s barely a hint of a romance in The Bone Witch. But then you read The Heart Forger and it does things to you and what the heck, Chupeco? How dare you? Must you make me agonize over this slow burn relationship and then smash my heartsglass into a million pieces in The Shadowglass? The seeds of the romance planted in the first book turn out to not only be SUPER SWOONWORTHY but like, really screws you up especially during this quarantine life when your emotions are dialed up to eleven, okay? And that’s just the main couple, there are other relationships that are lovely and meaningful, fantastically queer, and too adorable for words—sometimes all at once.

Just do yourself a favor, and acquire The Heart Forger and The Shadowglass so you have the whole trilogy before you start. You’ll thank me later.


Faye Bi

Faye Bi is the director of publicity at Bloomsbury Children’s Books, and spends the rest of her time reading, cycling, pondering her next meal, and being part of the Sirens communications team. She’s yet to read an immigrant story she hasn’t cried over, and is equally happy in walkable cities and sprawling natural vistas. You can follow her on Twitter @faye_bi.

Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco

We Ride Upon Sticks

Rin Chupeco’s Wicked As You Wish is a wild, romping adventure

Speaking generally, I’m not the audience for boisterous, busy, weird ensemble novels, so Wicked As You Wish shouldn’t have been the book for me. It’s like a thousand-piece puzzle: you turn over all the bits and find them packed with little details, and then the picture doesn’t come together until you’re halfway through. This is not a reading experience that typically endears me to a book.

And yet in this case, I was invested from the first page, long before I could see what it was doing. Maybe it was the book’s brightness, or the total matter-of-fact conviction with which Rin Chupeco presents the worldbuilding. Maybe it was the chapter titles, which include such gems as “In Which Government Agents are Assholes, But What Else is New” and “In Which the Firebird is an Absolute Unit”. Or maybe it’s the fact that this is the kind of book that grins at you sidelong and says, “okay, but what if ICE are double agents for an actual evil Snow Queen?” (It was all of these things. This book is extremely charming.)

But then, past the halfway point, Wicked As You Wish looked me dead in the face and told me: in a world so like our own, where everyone in power is making terrible mistakes and everyone is trying to fix them in the same flawed ways, concepts like good and evil are based at least in part on jingoistic bias. And it clicked. In with all the shiny parts, this book is very real.

Wicked As You Wish takes place in an alternate present with a blended mythology that assumes all fairy tales and fairy tale-adjacent classics (Arthurian legend, Wonderland, et al.) are based in reality. Magic is real, albeit tightly bound by law. It has all the wonder of those old stories, stuffed into all the bureaucratic capitalism of the world we know.

This worldbuilding is handled at breakneck speed to make room for the story: Tala is a Makiling, the daughter of a line of spellbreakers, training with her extended family to protect a prince. The prince, Alexei, is less in exile and more in magical witness protection. His kingdom was frozen in time at the end of a war with the Snow Queen, and he’s waiting for his eighteenth birthday to see if a firebird shows up to declare him the rightful king so he can go save Avalon.

It does. So off they go with a motley crew of elite adolescents and their familial relics to thaw an extremely magical kingdom that’s been separated from the world for twelve years.

The beauty of Wicked is in the moments when you fall in love with these characters. They’re all doing their best, juggling a world-saving quest with justified teenage feelings. The responsibility of saving and ruling a kingdom makes Alex act like an asshole, which it would probably do to most teen boys with complicated social lives. Tala feels like a burden as much as she does an asset most of the time, and doesn’t understand why her best friend is being such a dick to her and everyone else. There’s a ranger with a magical staff that turns into a toothpick when they need it to, whose dads defied aristocratic convention to be together. There’s a boy with twin swords, one that actively drives people to terrible violence, while the other will cut no living thing. One of the party is a douchey Nottingham descendant with necromancy in his bloodline and a heart of gold. (The Locksleys got rich and pretty somewhere along the way and they’re an awful lot less cool now, in my opinion. It’s a far-removed sidenote, but I’ve made my choice.)

Tucked into this glitterbomb of a story, though, are big ideas. Important ideas. This is one of the first young adult novels I’ve read that really understands the problems with idolizing royalty—or anyone in a position of political power. At its heart, Wicked As You Wish is not just a novel about teenage heroes. It’s a novel about what we do to live with ourselves. It’s about redemption, not in a single great act, but as a path one walks for the rest of one’s life. It’s about trusting complicated people, including yourself. And it’s about power: who gets it, who is burdened by it, and who is willing to use it.

These things hum in the background, harmonizing with a wild, romping adventure. This book is complex, with a great cast of chosen ones on a quest with a lot of moving parts. There’s so much to it that it took me a while to latch on securely enough to enjoy the ride, but it was well worth it. It surprised me and moved me and got me deeply invested before the end. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

And it doesn’t hurt that it is an absolute delight.


Jo O'Brien
Jo O’Brien is a writer, artist, cosplayer, mythical creature, and Viking who lives in northern Colorado, wrangling a host of familiar spirits. She draws and writes about ambitious, unrepentant, sometimes vicious women in novels and for live steel horse theater. She has been a member of the Sirens community since 2011.


The Sirens Review Squad is made up of Sirens volunteers, who submit short reviews of books (often fantasy literature by women or nonbinary authors) they’ve read and enjoyed. If you’re interested in sending us a review to run on the blog, please email us!

The City We Became Is Very Human. And Very New York.

Each year, Sirens chair Amy Tenbrink posts monthly reviews of new-to-her fantasy books by women and nonbinary authors. You can find all of her reviews at the Sirens Goodreads Group. We invite you to read along and discuss!

I have a confession to make: I hate New York City. I am told that this is because when I visit, I visit for work and that means that I spend most of my time in Midtown Manhattan, land of soulless office buildings and a million Pret a Mangers and seemingly two million douchey dudes that you’d think would work downtown on Wall Street but somehow don’t and are therefore somehow worse. But Midtown is also the home to Broadway and some amazing food and that winter village in Bryant Park—and it’s not so far from the American Museum of Natural History with that dinosaur who is too big for her room, so her head sticks out one door and her tail another. So you’d think that I’d be at least neutral on the subject of New York City, but no. All the subway trains are broken and every day is trash day and if I moved there, I’d have to start a podcast called “Shut up, New York.”

Which is to say that, when I tell you that you must—without delay or hesitation, without finishing whatever you’re reading now or stopping for niceties like dinner—voraciously consume The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin’s love letter to New York City, you should be believe me. Because I tell you this despite that I really hate New York City.

Because this is Jemisin, who just won a MacArthur genius grant and who achieved an unprecedented hat trick with three consecutive Best Novel Hugos, and because The Fifth Season, the first of those Hugos, is literally perfect, I know what you want to ask right now. I know this because every person to whom I have recommended this book has asked the same question: Is The City We Became better than The Fifth Season?

It is. It absolutely is.

So let’s do this.

We are in modern New York City: The hurry and scurry, the traffic and noise, the unbelievable food and magnificent music, the utterly spectacular people. The vibrancy and diversity and community that makes New York—more than LA or Chicago or anywhere else—the most American Dream place on the planet. Millions of American Dreams, bumping against each other, intertwining, making something wholly new. A reverie of striving and hustling and creating and awe. All in the shadow of Lady Liberty, who still means hope to people around the world.

In this contemporary beginning, New York has just awoken. It—and its people—have created the momentum necessary to transform it from a city to a city, an indelible place with its own sentience that will change the course of the stars. But births are never easy and as New York awakens it inhabits the body of a homeless boy, now tasked as the avatar of New York, who must battle for her life. He does, and he wins, for now. But the fight drains him and he needs the avatars of New York’s five boroughs to take their places and do their parts, before a monstrous invasion kills the nascent city.

And with that, a young man coming to New York for grad school steps off an escalator in Penn Station, onto the ground of Manhattan for the first time, and forgets his dang name. Because, much to his confusion, he’s now Manhattan, borough of money and assholes…

The City We Became is both tone poem and set piece, both paean to the wonder of the people of New York and Jemisin masterfully—and propulsively—moving her pieces around in preparation for book two. City is equal parts character and plot. The Bronx’s aging artist, Queens’s young immigrant striver, Brooklyn’s defiant MC-turned-mother-turned-politician, all BIPOC—and Staten Island’s insular white girl. An extrapolation of the Greatest City in the World from the granularity and individuality of its people. If you’ve ever thought people are beautiful, not in that glossy magazine way, but in their wrinkles and dreams and mistakes and kindnesses, this is very much your book.

But this isn’t just a tone poem, not just a tribute to the people of New York or even New York herself: This is a book with something bold and brave to say. Because when New York awakens, when she is at her most vulnerable, aliens invade. Like a virus, they spread, from person to person, taxi cab to bus, appearing most often as white, worm-like tendrils that will make you squirm. Our newborn heroes don’t know what they are or how they work or what they even want, but Jemisin’s Lovecraftian invaders are squishily insidious.

Most creators would stop there, reveling in having written a tour de force of character building, a terrifying villain, and a compelling plot about saving the newly sentient city of New York. But Jemisin is Jemisin: She takes her Lovecraftian invaders and specifically and inexorably tangles them up with Lovecraft’s bullshit. In one memorable scene, white supremacists, infected with tendrils, attempt to kill The Bronx with artwork that depicts an explicitly Lovecraftian (read, racist) take on New York City. The Bronx knows it—and equally importantly, we know it. Jemisin won’t settle for simply celebrating New York: She’s going to destroy those who would destroy it.

In the end, here’s why, for me, The City We Became surpasses the perfection of The Fifth Season: City is unrelentingly ambitious. It’s bold and brave and brilliant. It’s a shining work that makes you want to stand up and be counted alongside New York’s fiercest defenders. But it refuses to play by anyone’s rules: Not speculative fiction traditions, not an editor’s or a publisher’s idea of what sells, not your rules or mine. It’s unconstrained in a way that I don’t think The Fifth Season, for all its perfection, was. The City We Became is messy. It’s damp and dirty and joyous and right in your face. It’s very human. And very New York.


Amy TenbrinkBy day, Amy Tenbrink dons her supergirl suit and handles strategic and intellectual property transactions as an executive vice president of a major media company. By night, she dons her supergirl cape, plans literary conferences, bakes increasingly complicated pastries, and reads 150 books a year. She is a co-founder and current co-chair of Sirens, an annual conference dedicated to examining gender and fantasy literature. She likes nothing quite so much as monster girls, flagrant ambition, and a well-planned revolution.

Mexican Gothic Holds the Precise, Beating Heart of Modern Women’s Horror

Each year, Sirens chair Amy Tenbrink posts monthly reviews of new-to-her fantasy books by women and nonbinary authors. You can find all of her reviews at the Sirens Goodreads Group. We invite you to read along and discuss!

Mexican Gothic

On page 186 of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic, Noemí, our heroine, is mid-conversation with Virgil, the heir apparent of High Place, a crumbling family mansion in rural Mexico. She is in Virgil’s bedroom in the middle of the night, after experiencing a disturbingly vivid sexual dream featuring Virgil and his aggressive masculinity. The first words of the following exchange are Noemí’s:

“Were you in my room?”
“I thought I was in your dream.”
“It did not feel like a dream.”
“What did it feel like?”
“Like an intrusion,” she said.

As a reader, this is the sort of revelatory writing that requires that you put the book down and find something, anything—in this case, a Bath and Body Works coupon—to mark the page. Because this exchange is the precise, beating heart of modern women’s horror.


Let’s begin with a bit about Mexican Gothic. Noemí is a socialite in 1950s Mexico, mostly happy with her rounds of dresses and parties and beaux, but still, always, a girl who wants more: currently, a master’s degree in anthropology. When her family receives a nonsensical letter—troubling for all its nonsense—from her cousin, Catalina, Noemí’s father agrees to permit her to pursue that master’s degree, if only she’ll go check on Catalina and her new husband, Virgil, at High Point. Noemí takes the deal and is soon on a train, suitcases in tow.

Moreno-Garcia draws Noemí cleverly: She’s an assertive girl, but also a pretty one, and one who is accustomed to things being just so, one who thrives on appearances and flirtations and delicately upending social niceties with just the right amount of perceived danger. Because of who Noemí is, High Point reads initially as simply off-putting: dusty, moldy, faded, the home of an impoverished family unable to keep up with either cleaning or modern conveniences like electricity. Similarly, the household’s exacting rules—no talking during meals, no unsupervised time with Catalina, no second medical opinions—are designed to imply merely that Noemí has encountered a society foreign to her, one that a pretty girl cannot manipulate with smiles and teasing. But over time, through alarming conversations with her cousin, who seems only sometimes lucid, and forbidden conversations with locals, who share legends and mysteries, but rarely more, Noemí realizes that High Point is more menacing than simply unkempt, and the rules more dangerous than simply irritating.


Shirley Jackson’s seminal work of feminine horror, The Haunting of Hill House, was published in 1959, the same decade as the setting of Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic. In 60 years, though, women have gained new terrors—and new insight into familiar terrors. Jackson’s work is about mothers, domineering, demanding mothers who, even after death, haunt our lives. How almost quaint, through a 2020 lens, to focus on the issue with mothers, rather than the issues with the heteropatriarchy that so often make them that way. Moreno-Garcia’s work, while clearly an heir to Jackson’s, goes deeper and is not so willing to elide the roles that men play in women’s terrors.

Mexican Gothic is a work about intrusion, specifically a work about men’s innumerable intrusions into women’s lives. Without spoiling the mystery or the jump scares, Moreno-Garcia’s work turns on the many, many things that men take from women and the sacrifices that women are required to make to perpetuate men’s power. This isn’t a work about Noemí’s mother, who is nearly absent from the book, even in reference. It is a work about her father, in his wealthy naivete; Howard, the ailing, racist head of the High Point family; Virgil, the skillfully abusive heir apparent; and Francis, the weak-willed cousin. And it’s a work about the women who enable them—Florence, Francis’s mother and the household disciplinarian, and Catalina, Noemí’s compliant cousin—and Noemí, who does not.

At its best, Mexican Gothic uses its horrors to lay bare the quotidian horrors of women, forced to endure a lifetime of male intrusions.

At its worst, we need to talk about Moreno-Garcia’s use of rape, attempted rape, and sexual assault. Mexican Gothic is about male intrusions into women’s lives and, in many ways, very specifically about male intrusions into women’s bodily autonomy, both small (you may not take the car alone, you may not speak during dinner) and large (you may not leave High Point). In exploring those themes, Moreno-Garcia turns, often, to rape, attempted rape, and sexual assault. With a single exception (the final horror imposed on a woman, revealed at the book’s climax), in this work that is so much about bodily autonomy, Mexican Gothic assumes that rape is the ultimate intrusion that a man can force upon a woman. Regardless of whether you agree with that, Mexican Gothic uses rape, attempted rape, and sexual assault liberally—and in my view, too often. We know that Howard and Virgil are threats and, by the midway point of the book we know enough about High Point’s history to know that they are both sexual threats. Because we know that, most of these scenes read as unnecessary, no longer a horror that Howard or Virgil is imposing on Noemí, but a horror that Mexican Gothic imposes on its readers. Men intrude on women’s lives in so many ways; must the second half of Mexican Gothic rely so heavily on this one?

Setting aside its arguable overreliance on the horrors of sexual assault—if you are able to, of course—Mexican Gothic is a must-read for anyone interested in both female horror and its evolution. Moreno-Garcia takes Jackson’s themes from 60 years ago and transforms them, erasing the mother in favor of striking at the heart of the heteropatriarchy itself. In a world where we are all told to be more likeable, where our options are always limited, and yes, where we all fear assault, Moreno-Garcia’s house of horrors will be all too familiar.


Amy TenbrinkBy day, Amy Tenbrink dons her supergirl suit and handles strategic and intellectual property transactions as an executive vice president of a major media company. By night, she dons her supergirl cape, plans literary conferences, bakes increasingly complicated pastries, and reads 150 books a year. She is a co-founder and current co-chair of Sirens, an annual conference dedicated to examining gender and fantasy literature. She likes nothing quite so much as monster girls, flagrant ambition, and a well-planned revolution.

A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes and Dissonant Chords

Each month, Sirens co-chair Amy Tenbrink reviews new-to-her fantasy books by women and nonbinary authors—and occasionally invites other members of the Sirens community to do so. You can find all of these reviews at the Sirens Goodreads Group. We hope you’ll read along and discuss!

This month, Hallie Tibbetts reviews Suzanne Collins’s A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes!

In 2008, at a book fair, I got an advance copy of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and then stayed up all night in what I remember as the dirtiest hotel room in all of Los Angeles reading it. Once, twice, maybe three times a year I run across a book that completely transports me and, when I’m finished, leaves me with the disorientation of falling out of the story’s world and back into my own. The Hunger Games was one of those reads. I’ll spare you the details of the room, but recall for you how it felt to be completely immersed in the story of a girl whose simple desire to save her sister became an uneasy attempt to save her world. Of a girl who wanted no part of heroism, but chose a path of survival, rebellion, and protection of others over and over.

When a prequel for the series was announced, it was rumored that The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes would be Mags’s story. I was on board for finding out how Katniss’s octogenarian ally in the 75th Hunger Games achieved victory in the 11th, and then went on to be a mentor who volunteered in the place of others. But it was not to be: Songbirds and Snakes is instead set during the 10th Hunger Games, and about Coriolanus Snow, the president and main villain of the original trilogy.

I lost interest completely.

As it happens, though, I was given a copy of Songbirds and Snakes this summer. I work in publishing, and am always buried under my to-read pile; it’s sometimes enough to know the gist of a juggernaut for comparison titles and cocktail parties, so I still didn’t plan to read this book. Curiosity eventually won out. Consternation kept me reading.

Coriolanus Snow, Coryo to his closest friends, equivalent to a high school senior, lives with his cousin and grandmother in a once-glamorous penthouse apartment. His parents—a general and a woman described as vapid—are dead. His cousin picks up a little tailoring and fashion design work; his grandmother has embraced the Capitol’s propaganda. Soon, an increase in taxes will force them out of their home, which is a great embarrassment to Coriolanus. He struggles, at times, with memories of the war. The cannibalism. The bombings. The way his family fell from being wealthy to just hanging on (a fact that he hides through indelible charm, but he won’t be able to keep up the charade for much longer).

From the beginning, there are hints of Coriolanus’s affluenza, and of his seeming inability to truly see any other human as his equal. At first, his detachment can be excused by his care for his remaining family and the psychological consequences of the atrocities he witnessed. Still, early on, he describes his cousin as the sort of girl who “invites abuse.” For a moment, I was breathless, seeing that so blatantly stated. Why would an author whose work I respect allow this character to promulgate something so untrue? It takes a while for Coriolanus’s character to become clear, and for it to become clear that Collins intended this callousness as a defining trait. Coriolanus believes his cousin “invites abuse” because he understands abuse. Other people are not individuals. Their lives are not precious. Here is a boy who would never, ever volunteer as tribute.

This is where my readerly consternation comes in.

We already know that Coriolanus is a villain; we have the rest of the story, and we know there is no possibility of redemption. I question, very much, whether we need more stories of how young white men become villains. You can try to say that we have to unravel the reasons, that we have to understand the downward spiral so we can prevent it. You can say that there are infinite tales in this trope alone. But I’m pretty sure I’ve heard them all.

And yet, I found myself wishing to see Coriolanus at an earlier point in his story because I wanted to see what makes him choose, of all possible paths, the ones that lead him to his eventual end. Maybe I wanted to feel how his love for his family prompts his decisions—but then again, I don’t want any more stories of women dying to give a man purpose, or even portrayed as incapable of playing some part in their own rescue. Collins avoids this to an extent; cousin Tigris is hustling to start her career, and it’s hard to fault the grandmother for clinging to the post-war regime for her survival when a broken elevator means she can hardly leave her crumbling building. It’s a long way, though, from scrambling for a leg up to becoming the leader of a country that sacrifices children for entertainment—the circus for Panem—and then I think: I don’t need any more stories that show a villain’s fraudulently reasoned choice to be evil. I can turn on the news and be inundated with that right now. But we’re not meant to have a reader-character connection, at least not at the beginning. Where The Hunger Games uses a compelling first-person narrative, The Ballad of Snakes and Songbirds follows Coriolanus in a surprisingly cold third. Collins keeps readers at a stiff arm’s length, and—perhaps too kindly—gives us insight into his mindset, but doesn’t let us get too close.

Something Suzanne Collins does very well is incorporate the dark side of media into her stories while asking readers to critique their own engagement as consumers. (I speak about the books, and not about such things as movie tie-in makeup product campaigns where one can purchase a palette of Capitol-inspired eye shadow without ever considering the absurdity of the optics.) During the 10th Hunger Games recounted in Songbirds and Snakes, the games have been flagging. Coriolanus and his graduating classmates are selected to act as the first ever mentors, and the one who mentors the winner will receive a full ride to university, something Coriolanus desperately wants to leverage for salary and security as well as to cover up his family’s depleted finances. The mentors get a taste of fame when they’re interviewed to break up the coverage of the less-technological (almost analog) competition of the time. The longer a tribute stays in the games, the longer a mentor stays on TV. Even a bad death is good publicity when you understand the power of the screen.

The students are also tasked with coming up with ways to add excitement to the games. Some of the excitement invents itself: Rebels bomb the arena, creating hiding spots that allow the tributes to survive longer than the previous bare-bones venue allowed. But the government solicits the younger generation for new audience engagement schemes; their ideas spin the games toward the future high-tech nightmare. Coriolanus offhandedly suggests betting on the tributes, and this becomes a new initiative that brings in money for the government while ensuring the odds won’t be in any tribute’s favor.

The tributes, too, must work the public’s magnanimity. Lucy Gray, the underdog tribute from District 12 who Coriolanus suspects is assigned to him so that he will lose the games, is a singer, an entertainer—a master storyteller—who is so charismatic, one wonders why Coriolanus of the future doesn’t immediately suspect Katniss Everdeen of manipulation. Of course, for Coriolanus, no one else could be as clever as he. He cannot see that he is a teenager, lacking a mentor, raised in a world with little compassion, blithely throwing out ideas for the games with no regard for humanity. There are no adults in his life who ask him to analyze the results of his ideas for inherent harm, only those who encourage stripping others of their autonomy.

All of Coriolanus’s machinations would be stifling to read about if not for a secondary character that I more than once wished were the protagonist instead. Sejanus Plinth moved to the Capitol from District 2 as a child after his father became wealthy. Though Coriolanus sees the Plinths as hopelessly backward and sneers at their new money, he secretly wants their comfort for himself. Sejanus is, in Coriolanus’s mind, naïve to care about class differences and rebellions when fitting in is the path to safety and power. I’d also have enjoyed the story of a small group that included Sejanus and Coriolanus working through the difference between what they’ve been told to believe in the Capitol and the truth of their world, because realization and awakenings are central to young adult literature and also themes that follow people throughout their lives. Because, again, as we all know, Coriolanus is choosing villainy, and Sejanus is choosing something else.

And, again, it’s not that we can’t or shouldn’t read about villainy, or tragedy—and it is a tragedy when any one of us refuses responsibility to care for others—but why this?

I’m a fast reader, but it took me two months to read all of Songbirds and Snakes; I stalled out just past the halfway point in frustration (and, admittedly, due to life events, social media overload, too much bad TV, work deadlines, a surfeit of email, overdue personal projects, and other distractions). In the meantime, I zipped through a copy of Goldilocks by Laura Lam, which engages with some of the questions I’d been turning over in my mind while trying to figure out the why of this prequel, and that prompted me to finish my read and review project. Surely, there had to be more to Songbirds and Snakes.

I picked the book back up as the 10th games come to a close and Lucy Gray is named victor. Coriolanus should be fine—he’s passed himself off as a clever and kind soul. His education will be paid for. The girl he grew to love over the course of the games (oh, you expected that, didn’t you?) lives. Then, a moment when he gamed the games comes to haunt him. Not all is lost, as he becomes a Peacekeeper to avoid punishment, and asks to be assigned to District 12. It’s not the life he wanted, but perhaps he can make something of it with his love nearby. The reality of life in the districts and the monotony of the military seems at times a soporific routine and at others brings the despair of a bleak, dull, and impoverished future—and then Sejanus reappears. Sejanus, instead of being a model for Coriolanus, is an unwitting catalyst for Coriolanus’s beliefs. Coriolanus doubles down: “The Hunger Games are a reminder of what monsters we are and how we need the Capitol to keep us from chaos.” (343)

As Peacekeeper duties begin, and Coriolanus witnesses his first death at the hanging tree of song in The Hunger Games, he wonders how the rebellion, distant then and underpowered now, survived on anger instead of might. He knows that there used to be a District 13 and it is gone, so he believes that rebellions can be truly stamped out if there is a big enough show of power. The toxicity in him grows. He patrols, gun in hand. In District 12, poverty is everywhere, and he finds it reasonable to blame the poor for their plight. He sees why the Capitol should send money for property over people. It’s Sejanus who questions the Peacekeepers, and as before, Sejanus’s compassion perversely causes Coriolanus to dig in his heels, deny his own misgivings, and further embrace authoritarianism.

In spare hours, Coriolanus spends time with Lucy Gray’s (found) family, the Coveys, a tight-knit group of performers that get by, in their way, with strength and grace. Their story incorporates both old and invented Appalachian music, a real hidden gem for series readers, as we find out how some of Katniss’s songs came to be. Music nerds might know that Appalachian music has many influences, and that late nineteenth and early twentieth century historians avidly traced back snippets of song to sources overseas. Even when the memory of origins was lost, the rhythms and melodies and lyrics remained. In Songbirds and Snakes, the inclusion of songs nods to the other books in the series, set in the future, while reminding us how easily the past is wiped away.

History lost—and suppressed—is doomed to be repeated, and it’s bittersweet to see the cycle of loss and erasure in this plotline.

But back to the Coveys. Even surrounded by a working collaborative effort, Coriolanus can’t comprehend how humans might be kind to one another without force; he thinks that only authority can prevent a descent into disorder. Perhaps that’s the tragedy—the distrust, the lack of empathy, the anger at losing control over others. Perhaps you know a tragedy yourself.

I won’t spoil the ending, other than to say that Coriolanus takes brave actions for himself that also betray the people he claims to care about. I sometimes say that the challenge of being a human is pretending you aren’t an animal. It’s Lucy Gray who sums up for me how one can fail this choice: “You know when you’ve stepped across the line into evil, and it’s your life’s challenge to try and stay on the right side of that line.” (493) The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is Suzanne Collins’s exploration of what happens when one doesn’t care about the right side of the line, especially when good is in danger of being usurped by evil.

It’s in the last pages that I finally find the gut punch, leaving me dazed. Coriolanus is smart. Arrogant. He believes himself exceptional. As a child, I was all of these things; you can draw some weird conclusions from praise and success stories. While I didn’t grow up to be the tyrannical leader of a country that sacrifices children, there is a frightened part of me that recognizes the desire to be in control, to be perfect, to save myself first. I didn’t grow up to be an abjectly horrible person, so what nudged me, over the years, to be more open minded, to be kinder, to lick my wounds and learn from mistakes and try to do better next time?

I don’t have to look far to see people operating with an open lack of empathy and every bad trait I could have exemplified. Every terrible, miserable, alternate-reality version of me.

If someone had known how to tap into my deepest, unspoken fears and offered me everything I wanted, would I have taken their hand?

There it is. Suzanne’s Collins knack for drawing us into the actions of others, and reminding us that the filter of entertainment is no excuse. We must constantly, consistently ask if we are complicit. And we must keep choosing to be on the right side of the line.

G – Bb – A – D.


Hallie Tibbetts works in children’s publishing, editing books for all ages. She has a love of adventure, travel, interesting food, and dinosaurs (preferably all at once). She is one of the founders of Narrate Conferences, the presenting organization behind Sirens, and has served in various roles, including conference chair and programming coordinator. On occasion, she tweets: @hallietibbetts

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