Happy Tuesday readers! I am super excited today to present to you my review for Fresh Ink, a young adult anthology made up of #OwnVoices short stories from a multitude of genres. Since this book is a collection of short stories, I will provide my thoughts on each individual story, with my overall feelings on the collection at the end of the post.
Eraser Tattoo by Jason Reynolds ★★★★☆
Rep: Black main characters
Thoughts: This was a sweet story about two childhood best friends who fell in love but are now parting ways. It was quicker than I thought it was going to be, but I liked seeing this tiny snapshot of these characters’ lives. I guess that’s kind of what short stories are all about, but it did take me a second to adjust, as I’m pretty sure this is the first anthology I’ve ever read.
Meet Cute by Malinda Lo ★★★☆☆
Rep: Sapphic Asian main character; sapphic Black love interest
Thoughts: The premise of this story is that two girls are trapped together when the power goes out at the convention they’re attending. I thought the idea was really cute, and I loved all the girl power in this story. The main characters’ nerdiness made me so happy, but the main thing that kept me from getting more into this story is that I don’t know anything about Star Trek or The X Files (the fandoms from which the main characters are cosplaying). You can still read this story without prior knowledge of those fandoms, but I felt like I would have liked it better if I had understood the references.
Don’t Pass Me By by Eric Gansworth ★★☆☆☆
Rep: Native American main character and side characters
Thoughts: This story was okay, and it was cool getting a glimpse of what it’s like to live on a reservation but go to school outside of it. However, I felt like the writing was kind of clunky and hard to follow. Perhaps it’s just me, but I wasn’t super into this one.
Be Cool for Once by Aminah Mae Safi ★★★★★
Rep: Muslim main character, sapphic side character, possibly Asian love interest
Thoughts: Be Cool for Once was one of my favorite short stories in this collection. The main character, Shirin, runs into the boy she likes while at a concert for her favorite band. I loved that the story was centered around music, and I loved Shirin’s wild best friend, Francesca. The two friends were so different and I loved their dynamic. I also really liked that Shirin was an aspiring scientist and the ways in which this aspect of her identity played into her thought process. This story was just really adorable, and I’m excited to read the author’s debut novel.
Tags by Walter Dean Myers ★★★★★
Rep: Black main characters
Thoughts: Tags, which is already different from the other stories in this anthology because of its play format, has an incredibly interesting and original concept. I don’t want to give to much away, as I think it’s better to go into this story without knowing a lot, but just know that it’s intense.
Content warning: death, gun violence
Why I Learned to Cook by Sara Farizan ★★★☆☆
Rep: Bisexual Iranian-American main character, sapphic side character
Thoughts: Why I Learned to Cook is a cute story about a girl figuring out how to introduce her grandmother to her girlfriend. I enjoyed reading about the relationships between these three characters, but the writing was kinda meh—some of the dialogue especially just felt off and unrealistic. Overall though, I enjoyed it.
A Stranger at the Bochinche by Daniel José Older ★★★☆☆
Genre: Historical fantasy
Rep: Latinx author (and I think Latinx characters? It isn’t stated explicitly.)
Thoughts: This is cool historical fantasy story with steampunk vibes. I’m not quite sure in which time period this is set, but it takes place in Brooklyn and there are dinosaurs, which is pretty cool. Another interesting aspect of this piece is the narration—it’s written in second person. This story wasn’t one of my favorites, but it was pretty cool.
A Boy’s Duty by Sharon G. Flake ★★☆☆☆
Genre: Historical fiction
Rep: Black main character
Thoughts: A Boy’s Duty is a historical fiction piece set during World War II. Zakary, the main character, ran away from home and lives in a café at the time this story takes place. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t super into this story and found it to be boring.
One Voice by Melissa de la Cruz ★★★★☆
Rep: Undocumented Filipino-American main character
Thoughts: I really liked Melissa de la Cruz’s narrative about an undocumented university student named Jasmine. The story is centered around an incident at her school where someone painted some sort of racist slur on a school building. This discussion of hate speech felt SO relevant in today’s day and age, and it was interesting to read about Jasmine’s reaction to the vandalism and how it interplayed with her identity as an undocumented immigrant. Stories about undocumented people are so important to read, especially with the current political climate in America, and I think Melissa de la Cruz has written a really great one.
Paladin/Samurai by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Thien Pham
Genre: Graphic short story, Contemporary
Rep: I think a Japanese-American character?
Thoughts: Unfortunately, this graphic short story was cropped weirdly in the copy I received, so I wasn’t really able to read enough to understand the story and will not be reviewing it individually.
Catch, Pull, Drive by Schuyler Bailar ★★★★★
Rep: Transgender male main character
Thoughts: Another one of my favorites from this anthology!! Catch, Pull, Drive is about a trans swimmer and his first day after coming out. I loved it so much and I really felt for the main character, Tommy. His swimming coach and some of the other kids made me so angry and I just! Ahhh! But then there’s that one kid who stands up for the other kid and restores your faith in humanity and did I mention I loved this story? Also I really liked how the author used the repetition of the title throughout the story! And he’s the first openly transgender person to swim on a division one NCAA team and that’s super cool.
Content warning: transphobic and homophobic language (challenged)
Super Human by Nicola Yoon ★★★★★
Genre: Superhero fantasy
Rep: Black main character and side characters
Thoughts: Nicola Yoon provided the perfect finale to this collection. Truthfully, I was a bit surprised at how much I loved this piece, considering that I wasn’t a huge fan of either of her books (contrary to popular opinion), but I really really loved this story. The premise is that the main character, Syrita, has been chosen to convince this superhero named X to not destroy the world. This piece’s setting (which is basically just the regular world except superheroes exist) adds an incredibly interesting layer to discussions of race, police brutality, and humanity. I absolutely loved this story!
Fresh Ink is a beautifully curated collection of stories that spans genres, time periods, and marginalizations. As I would expect with any anthology, I liked some pieces more than others, but all in all, I greatly enjoyed this collection of #OwnVoices works.
Fresh Ink releases today, so I encourage you to consider grabbing a copy! You can find the book here: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository. And let me know in the comments if you plan on picking up Fresh Ink!
Thank you to the publisher for providing me with a free review copy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.