Middle School Monday: A Review. Of a Book. That is Fire.
Like most of us, I’m in love with books. Love. Books. As school librarians, though, it’s important for us to also focus on other aspects of our practice—youth identity development, information literacy, responsive pedagogy. So, I’ve tried to focus here on MSM on programming I’ve already done with specific novels and the work we do with our teens. Umm, not today. Today, I just want to talk about a book. One book. It’s not even going to be a review, because I don’t want to tease the plot or temper my enthusiasm. I just want to tell you why I love it.
That book is Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo. I’m so in love with this book I want to find a new Netflix show to binge watch with it. But, when I read reviews of this novel—even though they are starred and extremely complimentary—they seem too bland. THIS BOOK IS FIRE, PEOPLE.
The Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom duology continues the world first created in the Grisha Trilogy, starting with Shadow and Bone. Whew, I love that series. If you haven’t read it, go now. Do it. But, well, I guess only if you like exquisitely written high fantasy with characters that jump off the page. That series has one of my favorite lines EVER spoken. [I don’t want to spoil it, but for those fellow Grishaverse members, it’s Genya saying IANR, IAR. I’ve said it to myself—in my head—at staff meetings. And family dinners. So therapeutic.]
Do you HAVE to read the Shadow and Bone series before diving into Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom? I guess not. I mean if you want to try and scrape together an existence without Nikolai in your life, who am I to judge? [Yes. READ THE GRISHA TRILOGY FIRST.]
After I read Six of Crows last year, I was even more enchanted with this beautiful and terrible world Leigh Bardugo has crafted. [I think I actually swooned.] Take a complicated heist, world-building that makes you kiss your fingers, and six characters that are complicated, flawed, and perfect and tie it together with luminous writing and a lavish story? Who wouldn’t swoon? We often talk about the magic of books being an escape. I think their real magic is when they make you feel empowered. When I finished Six of Crows, I felt limitless. As if I was the one who had taken jurda parem. I was as tough as Kaz. As skilled as Inej. As bold as Nina. As charismatic as Jesper. [Maybe that’s pushing it. No one is as charismatic as Jesper!]
When Crooked Kingdom came out last month, I wanted to cry. I wanted to read it in one night. I wanted to never read it—because then it would be over.
I read it in one night. Then, I read it again last week. THIS BOOK IS FIRE.
If Six of Crows made us feel momentarily flush with power, Crooked Kingdom is the book that speaks to us in the “other” moments. When we feel like the ones not chosen. To wit on page 460:
What about the nobodies and the nothings, the invisible girls? We learn to hold our heads as if we wear crowns. We learn to wring magic from the ordinary….When the world owed you nothing, you demanded something of it anyway.
Where is the best place to write this quote? On my mirror? As a tattoo? On the inside of my eyelids?
Every wonderful element from Six of Crows is even more pronounced in Crooked Kingdom. [How is that even possible?] It’s as if Six of Crows is on jurda parem! [I promise that is the last time I’ll use that analogy.] Higher stakes, even more death-defying situations, more heart-wrenching interactions. The romance? Ahem. Whole scenes unspool with our loves barely—or not even—touching each other and they are some of the most romantic, intimate scenes I’ve ever read. And the conversations! Nina and Matthias on flowers and tidal waves. Jesper and Wylan whenever they are in the same room. Kaz and Inej! My heart. My heart.
These books include diverse representation that feels real and wide—the way we look, where we are from, the way we’re treated, the way we think, the way we move, who we love. I loved this interview with Leigh Bardugo at Disability in Kidlit and this one where she talks about these issues.
The novel is so intricate to tease anything else in terms of storyline will feel like a spoiler. I will say this: it is so witty.
- When someone tells Kaz he’s too busy holding a grudge…
“That’s where you’re wrong,” said Kaz. “I don’t hold a grudge. I cradle it. I coddle it. I feed it fine cuts of meat and send it to the best schools.”
- In response to the Fjerdans, a character says: “I’m amazed you can detect anything over the reek of ice and inbreeding.”
- Nina, reminding Inej: “We can’t both be merciful and serene.” [Another mantra perfect to pull out at meetings. And dinners.]
Finally, am I the only one who feels like the Dregs are constantly gifting me with wisdom?
- “The really bad monsters never look like monsters.” [That was from Kaz. Of course!]
- “You’re letting shame decide who you are. We can endure all kinds of pain. It’s shame that eats men whole.” [Kaz again. He’s a walking motivational poster that is both terrifying and compelling.]
- Maybe she should feel ashamed, maybe even frightened. But she hadn’t been made for shame. [Nina, who is the life coach I desperately need.]
Read this book. Buy it for your library. That is all.
I’m Julie Stivers at @BespokeLib and I don’t say THIS BOOK IS FIRE lightly. In fact, I’ve never said it before.
Full disclosure: I paid for this book with my own money.
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About Robin Willis
After working in middle school libraries for over 20 years, Robin Willis now works in a public library system in Maryland.
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