Mini Reviews - Black Dove White Raven, Contagion, 5 to 1
title: Black Dove White Raven
author: Elizabeth Wein
pages: 390
format: Audiobook
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 3/5
genre: Historical
topics: Black character, Found Family, War, Racism

Black Dove, White Raven tells the story of Emilia and Teo, two adopted siblings, raised in both America and Ethiopia during the 1930s. Emilia's mother and Teo's mother were best friends and two halves of a stunt-flying duo, but when Teo's mother dies he's adopted into Emilia's family and they move to Ethiopia. Teo's father is from there. But war with Italy starts brewing, ultimately forcing them to flee the country.

The story is told through a framing device that...just...really irritated me. In the very first chapter Emilia is writing to the king of Ethiopia asking for help getting Teo out of the country, and then includes a bunch of writing assignments they did in school because...reasons. Writing assignments that just so happen to conveniently be written in a very story/narrative format and cover every aspect of their lives from childhood up to present day. Wow, how convincing. I really hate framing devices like that, because there would be nothing lost if you  just take it out, but putting it in just serves to distract me throughout the book.

Added to that it's a very slow story but I didn't get the impression anything was added by that slowness. It's mostly due to the overabundance of descriptions and the extremely long time period covered, rather than any sort of contemplative dive into the characters or situation. The writing is still lovely, of course, but a lovely description of making coffee is still just making coffee. (Granted, I'm not saying there's no character or setting or racism commentary, just that...that's not what's padding out the pages.)

Contagion by Erin Bowman
title: Contagion
author: Erin Bowman
pages: 432
format: Hardcover
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 3/5
genre: Science Fiction
topics: Zombies

While working on a remote ice cap to mine futuristic fuel, a group of researchers and security personnel are charged with responding to a distress signal because they are the closest people around. They are sent out just hours ahead of a more formal rescue team, and when they land on the planet and discover that Zombies Did It, they have to find a way to warn the rescue crew and keep the zombies from getting more nomable humans.

Okay, so that's a really flippant summary, but once I realized it was zombies all of the tension drained out of the book for me. It proceeds as a pretty standard zombie story from there, even if it is a good example of the standard. I did enjoy the really atmospheric setting of a desolate, always-night planet, and a few of the characters were compelling. But beyond that...meh? The whole plot hinged on one character making monumentally poor decisions over and over again, and while she had reasons consistent with her character, it was frustrating. Especially when everyone else on the crew just let her get away with it!

There's some sequel potential, an open ending that leaves room for the zombies to go in a different direction, and I might check it out. Undecided, though.

5 to 1 by Holly Badger
title: 5 to 1
author: Holly Badger
pages: 244
format: Hardcover
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 3/5
genre: Dystopian
topics: Indian character, toxic family

5 to 1 is set in a dystopian future years of selecting for male children has left India with a population of five boys to every one girl. Fed up, one small section of the country breaks off and forms their own matriarchal country, where they try to correct the imbalance by rewarding families that have girls instead of ones that have boys. But the government is strict, controlling, isolationist, and not entirely truthful about the 'utopia' they've created.

The story takes place during a marriage test. Every girl gets a randomly selected group of boys who all compete to marry her. Told through alternate POVs of Sudasa (in verse) and Kiran (in prose), the two slowly learn that both of them don't want to be there. Kiran has a plan to escape the walled-off country, and that plan involves losing. Sudasa doesn't know what she wants, she just knows that she isn't being given a chance to find it.

The concept was really cool and the format was unique. I liked how the switch between verse and prose gave the two leads thoroughly different voices, and watching them learn about the other in spite of the contest's rules instead of because of them was interesting. There's not much of a plot, since the book is so short and covers such a small time frame, but it's meant to be more commentary than epic story anyway. I found Sudasa's sections tedious after a while, though, because she had a bad case of Not Like Other Girls going on. She continually whined that all the other girls were content with the marriage system and she alone was too much of a free spirit to endure it, and even after finding out neither of the other two girl characters liked it, she still failed to revise Those Other Girls Ugh position.

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