If You Follow Me by Malena Watrous (Harper Perennial)
Malena Watrous’ debut novel If You Follow Me is a funny, moving and smart novel about a woman named Marina who moves with her girlfriend, Carolyn, to a small rural town in Japan to teach English for a year.
Marina is inspired to go to Japan after, among other things, the suicide of her father. Her expectations are that she’ll be able to process her loss and begin moving forward in her life. But from the very beginning, Marina struggles to fit in. She tries but mostly fails to figure out the tricky gomi rules of throwing away the garage in her neighborhood. She takes the order not to drive as a suggestion and pays for it. Her “japlish” is often misunderstood. And then there is her relationship with Carolyn, a closeted relationship that is jeopardized by Marina’s attraction to her supervisor, a man, at the school where she teaches.
Narrated from Marina’s point of view, the voice is engaging in part because Marina is so incapable of following the rules. If You Follow Me is a book about manners — especially about breaking manners. As Marina settles into the school and her neighborhood, she can’t seem to do anything right.
Watrous captures Marina’s journey to fit in and to figure out her feelings for Carolyn and her supervisor against the more complex backdrop of her father’s death and the guilt and grief connected to his suicide. All of this is filtered through Marina’s cultural assimilation and the alternatively meaningful and hilarious interactions that she has with her students.
If You Follow Me won the Michener-Copernicus Award. Highly recommended.
Huntress by Malinda Lo (Little, Brown)
Malinda Lo’s first novel, Ash, added a new voice and perspective to LGBT YA literature. Widely acclaimed for its original take on the story of Cinderella, Ash takes place in a very specific world and time. Lo’s new novel, Huntress, is the prequel to Ash. Inspired by the famous Chinese text the I Ching, the book is packed with suspense and romance.
Huntress opens with plenty at stake. The sun refuses to provide light. There is no food. Creatures are lurking. People are dying. To help solve this problem, seventeen-year-olds Kaede and Taisin are chosen to visit Taninli, the city of the Fairy Queen. Though they are of different natures — Kaede “of the earth” and Kaede magical — the two girls begin to fall in love with each other as they journey toward Taninli.
Lo captures the growing attraction between Kaede and Taisin in lyrical and sharp prose: “The ground where she stood was frozen white, but twenty feet away, cold blue ocean lapped at the jagged shore. Someone there was climbing into a rowboat, and she knew that she loved this person. She was certain of it in the same way that one is instantly aware of the taste of sweetness in a drop of honey.”
However, the problem isn’t only fending off attacks along this dangerous and important journey, but also the girls’ understanding that only one huntress is needed to save the kingdom.
Huntress is a beautiful, gripping, original story. Read it. Trust me!