Review: People Like Us

People Like Us
By Dane Mele
Published February 27, 2018 by Putnam

People Like Us is a fun, twisty YA thriller set in a privileged and vicious world. Kay Donovan is a scholarship student at an elite boarding school, the Bates Academy. Because she’s a soccer star and captain of the team, Kay is one of the school’s most popular students, and she’s part of a group of girls who run the school.

People Like UsKay seems to be on top of the world until the night she and her friends try to go skinny-dipping and find a dead body in the school lake. It looks like the dead girl committed suicide, but the police are investigating her death and have a lot of questions for the girls who found the body. The morning after, Kay receives an email from the dead girl, telling Kay that she has to carry out an elaborate revenge plan or her past will be revealed. Kay has skeletons in her closet, and if they come out, her chances for a college scholarship are in danger, so she feels she has to go along with the plot, and she gets caught up in trying to investigate the death. As you can imagine, this doesn’t exactly go well for her.

This book was a lot of fun. I ripped through it, dying to get to the big revelation at the end. It’s really fast paced, and it mostly kept me guessing until the end. There are a lot of suspects, and all of the characters are kind of awful, so it feels plausible that any of them could have done it. Kay is a morally ambiguous character. She’s been a mean girl to lots of her fellow students, and when she begins to fall under suspicion, people are quick to turn on her. She feels terrible about the things she’s done, but she’s also willing to sacrifice her friends to save herself. She’s a mess, and I found myself rooting for her even as she did some really dumb things.

People Like Us has a lot of LGBT representation. The main character is bi, her best friend is gay, and there are other gay and bi characters. It’s refreshing to see this representation, and it’s treated as unexceptional in the book.

I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.

Review: Tempests and Slaughter

Tempests and Slaughter (The Numair Chronicles Book One)
By Tamora Pierce
Published February 6, 2018 by Random House

Tamora Pierce is a legend in young adult fantasy, and the release of a new book by her is always cause for celebration. Tempests and Slaughter is the latest of a long line of books set in the world of Tortall. This time, we go back to the childhood of the mage Numair. Once upon a time, he was a boy named Arram Draper.

Arram is one of the youngest and most talented students at the Imperial University of Carthak. He’s a very impressive mage in training, and has been moved up to more advanced classes, which Tempests and Slaughtermakes him a bit of an outcast. But then he meets Ozorne, a prince from the imperial family, and the lovely and charming Varice. The trio quickly become the closest of friends.

Tempests and Slaughter has a delightful old-school quality. Recent Young Adult fantasy often has certain hallmarks: breakneck (and sometimes nonsensical) plotting, instalove, and weak world building. Pierce is a master of the genre, and none of these pitfalls are present in Tempests and Slaughter. Pierce takes her time with the story. Obviously, the fact that this is the latest in a long line of books set in this world means that the world-building is adding on to an existing world, but Pierce doesn’t cut any corners. Every element of the world is well thought out.

There’s not actually a ton of plot. It’s mostly about Arram’s day-to-day life at the school. He learns what he is capable of, he grows in his friendships with Ozorne and Varice, and he begins to formulate his world view. Arram is very aware of the injustices of the society he lives in. He comes from a country that doesn’t have slavery, and he is very bothered by slavery in the Carthaki empire. It’s difficult for him to understand why no one else seems to be bothered by this system. He’s also very aware of the problematic issue of gladiator fights. As part of his mage training, he is called on to help treat the injured gladiators, and he’s horrified by the practice of fighting and the fact that it’s viewed merely as entertainment for so many.

There’s only the barest hint of romance in this book, which makes sense considering that Arram is 10 when the books begins. It covers a 4-year period in his life, and as he gets older, there are attractions and crushes, but they are a very minor part of the book. Given Arram’s young age at the beginning of the book, Tempests and Slaughter may appeal to both middle grade and young adult readers. It has a Harry Potter quality, in that you’re watching a child as he grows older. I enjoyed Tempests and Slaughter very much, and it’s inspired me to go back and finish the Tortall books I haven’t read.

I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.