ARC Review: Color Outside the Lines, Edited by Sangu Mandanna

I received an A.R.C for this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. 

This review is spoiler-free.

Status: Finished Reading (26 March 2019)

Rating: ★★★★☆

Edition: Kindle ARC

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Image Source: Goodreads

I think one of the hardest parts of reviewing an anthology is balancing the review of the book as a collection with the review of every individual story. Perhaps I will try to do both, because there are things I have to say about both aspects of this collection of short stories.

As an anthology, Color Outside the Lines is phenomenal. The blurb spoke to me from the first time I read it, which is what pushed me to request an ARC in the first place. The foreword by editor Sangu Mandanna further reiterated the very reasons I loved the idea of this book. Representation matters, and it matters in every single form.

From a lot of the mainstream YA that I have personally read, interracial relationships are either a quick plot resolution for secondary characters, or a “ship”-focused writing for the main character. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with focusing on “ship” things (don’t we all?), I have found little YA that addresses the finer points, experiences and struggles of interracial relationships.

So, to have an anthology that covers a range of different types of interracial relationships – in age, genre, ethnicity, race, religion, gender, and sexuality – was so heartwarming. The stories ranged from 3-star to 5-star for me (hence the overall 4-star rating), which is a really good score for a collection, in my opinion. Let me take a moment to say a little something about every story I read:

Turn the Sky to Petals by Anna-Marie McLemore

What a beautiful and poetic start to the collection. I have been meaning to read McLemore’s work for some time now, and this story sealed my fate as a guaranteed future McLemore fan. Prose poetry combined with second-person POV? There was no way that I wasn’t going to love this one with all my heart. The references to a forced removal from an artistic space (I too injured my ankle and was relegated to recreational dancing instead of continuing as part of a team) really struck a nerve with me. I especially love the ending!

Rating: 5/5

Title + Story to come by Danielle Paige (no story provided)

What We Love by Lauren Gibaldi

I actually did like the working concept of this story, but the execution of it just didn’t quite work out for me. I appreciated the discussion of peer-on-peer racism in an academic setting, and I fully understood the characters’ intentions (and I also did like how their shared experiences brought them together). I just felt like a lot of the storyline was rushed and didn’t quite come across as powerful as it was intended to (which is a shame since I love the use of the Star Wars parallels and how they interpret them in the real world). I feel like the focus on the catty drama drew away from the racism that was causing it to begin with (with the plot more centred around the girl-on-girl drama than the white-on-poc aggression it should be discussing. Although those things often go hand-in-hand, it is a nuance I didn’t think reflected on paper).

Rating: 3/5

Giving Up the Ghost by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas

This was such a cute and unexpected story! I wasn’t expecting the paranormal elements but they worked in the best way ever! I feel like with such a short story, you have to be careful with the world building, lest you manage to only confuse your readers. But Giving Up the Ghost not only had a cute plot resolution, but the supernatural elements were tidily inserted into the action (and they added to the comedic aspects, which I adored!) Also, a nice shout out to the mixed Asian ancestry of the main character – something I don’t get to see a lot of in mainstream YA.

Rating: 4/5

Your Life Matters by L.L McKinney

This is one of the most powerful stories in this anthology, I think. Although fairly cute on the surface level – a sapphic couple dealing with parent drama, adorable flirting and cuddles, and a never ending sense of hope – there is also such heavy conversation carefully woven into the work. The topics of the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality, and violence on black people are dealt with such poignance, that I felt myself getting choked up reading them. At the same time, keeping in line with the theme of the plot, everything is handled perfectly and with a distinct sense of positivity towards the end.

Rating: 5/5

Starlight and Moondust by Lori M. Lee

Starlight and Moondust had a simultaneously beautiful yet tragic quality to it, which is my favourite kind of story. The best part, I think, is the discussion of myths in the story, and the different meanings they hold for different people – how a story changes depending on who is telling it and who is listening to it. It called out to me, since I too come from a culture where oral tradition is strong in myth-passing. I was holding my breath right until the very end because of how stunning every scene and line was.

Rating: 5/5

Five Times Shiva Met Harry by Sangu Mandanna

This has to be an interesting spin on a meet-cute, especially since it otherwise deals with such an important conversation of privilege and toxic learning. A huge fan of the 5- and 5+1- trope, I fell in love with this one the moment I read the title. As a South Asian myself, I fully understand the need to run the British Empire test on someone, and how quickly it can change your opinion of them. For the story to realistically deal with the tension surrounding this topic, and also give room for improvement, awareness, and unlearning, was what made it a winner for me.

Rating: 4.5/5

The Agony of a Heart’s Wish by Samira Ahmed

A historical story set in South Asia during the British Raj – I must say I was slightly wary of it. YA so often uses historical settings to humanise colonisers, and knowing the theme of the book, I was scared of how this would pan out. I actually ended up really liking the story? I feel like it did a great job of showing two sides of English oppression – the oppression against the Irish within Europe, and the oppression of POC across the world. That was not something I expected, and it was an interesting introduction into the story. It felt very realistically handled, especially with how it ended. The fact that it was all centred around poetry made it even better, since I absolutely love poetry.

Rating: 4/5

The Coward’s Guide to Falling In Love by Caroline Tung Richmond

Possibly the most adorable yet most bittersweet story in the whole lot. I loved Juliet’s character so much – so incredibly relatable, and so well handled. I felt like I could definitely tell in which direction the plot was headed, but at the same time I did not find myself complaining at all. It was a much needed kind of love story, the kind of love many of us have experienced – and it deserved to be told. Short and simple, but very powerful.

Rating: 5/5

Death and the Maiden by Tara Sim

Easily my favourite story of the whole anthology. I am a huge, huge fan of the Hades/Persephone myth – not just as a lover of myths and stories, but also as someone who deeply admires Persephone from a spiritual and religious aspect. I also happen to be Indian – so to see a blend of two cultures that hold so much meaning to me, in one story? It shook me to my core. Moreover, it was a sapphic retelling, which made the whole story even better! Some of the finer points of the story that stood out to me: the prose, the addressing of cross-cultural contexts within the myth (including parts of South Asian history), and Parvani’s realisation of her own influence and power as queen of the underworld. What I wouldn’t give to read a whole novel of this.

Rating: 5/5.

Faithfull by Karuna Riazi

This story took me a page or two to fully understand, and I was thinking about it for a long time even after. The focus of this one was definitely the relationship of the main character with her mother, and I loved that it addressed the complex nature of that instead of being fully focused on romance. It also talks about assimilation and becoming part of a religious community that you are not previously part of, which I think is a very important representation to be included. Overall, an emotional but cute story.

Rating: 3.5/5

Gilman Street by Michelle Ruiz Keil

Ah, a story of rebellion and young love, set in a retro backdrop of the 80s. It really is a story of self discovery – not just with the main character figuring out the meaning of being biracial, of knowing other biracial people, different types of brown people, and her own sexuality – but also discovering her place in her community, in her school, and amongst the people that she sees everyday. There is definitely aspects of romance, but the focus is on a single night of harmless fun, figuring oneself out, and making friends in unexpected places once you let the old ones go. Overall, a very lovely coming of age (as much as you can on one night) story.

Rating: 4.5/5

The Boy Is by Elsie Chapman

God, I wish this one was longer because I really do think it talked about something really important: East-Asian fetishisation, and exoticisation of POC by white people. We have a Chinese-American main character, who is already struggling to navigate through life in terms of her work, school, and family – then she has to deal with a boyfriend who sees her as category to checkmark off a form. What I love is that the focus of the story wasn’t her just dealing with this guy, but instead figuring out how to move on with her own life and make the most of her own experiences. What an important story to tell – I just wish it had been a little longer.

Rating: 4.5/5

Sandwiched in Between by Eric Smith

This was another one of those unexpected-but-in-a-good-way stories. It’s an established romance between two brown people, one of whom grew up surrounded by her own culture and the other who was adopted by a white family. It discusses the varied upbringing of the two characters, and the ignorant concepts of colour-blindness, and micro-aggressive racism exhibited by well-intentioned white people (especially those who adopt POC children). A good story, although a bit rushed in its narration.

Rating: 4/5

Yuna and the Wall by Lydia Kang

Again, another one of those stories wrapped in beauty and a sense of tragedy. I was waiting with bated breath to see how it would pan out, because I became so quickly invested in the characters. It is a fantasy story which follows two outcasts, and how they not only learn to shed their misconceptions about each other, but also how to fight and live with the misconceptions the world has about them. A lot of the development in this is subtle, but impactful. I loved it to bits.

Rating: 4.5/5.

TK by Adam Silvera (no story provided).

 

Overall, this is one of the best collection of short stories I’ve read in a hot minute, and I absolutely cannot wait to read the finished version (including the stories that didn’t get a chance to be a part of the ARC). It’s such a shame I have to wait all the way until November, but if the finished product is as good as this ARC was, then it is well worth the wait! Check it out when it hits shelves on November 12th!

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