Book Review: Girls of Paper and Fire

Trigger/Content Warnings: Sexual abuse, sexual assault, rape, physical abuse, slavery, and homophobia (which is addressed on page)*.

*Please note that this is an own voices book, I am not a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, and I will make no determinations as to what the homophobia makes someone of that community feel except to say you should look to own voices reviewers (most of whom seem to love the representation).

girls of paper and fireOfficial Blurb: 

In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after — the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learns the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, she does the unthinkable — she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world’s entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

My Take: 5/5 Stars

“I know what it means to dream about the past. To dream about things you have loved, and lost.” ~ Natasha Ngan

From only a few sentences in, I knew I was going to love GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE. I was so sure this would be one of my five-star reviews that I basically started crafting this post right around Chapter Three. Natasha Ngan’s stunning, Asian-inspired fantasy grabbed me with both its content and its characters. Ngan’s world building is unique and rich,  her characters multi-faceted and complex. There wasn’t a single person (or demon) I met that I didn’t want to know more about, who I didn’t want to sit and imagine.

But more than anything, I loved the fact that this was a book about girls saving girls, in every way imaginable. There was no knight in shining armor, because there didn’t have to be. There was plenty of courage and magic and badassery in Paper House. There were strong female friendships and romances, but there were also complicated rivalries; something I love seeing on the page. Ngan’s characters are complex, and that complexity makes them messy. Anyone who knows me knows I love a little mess in my literature. Because messy is emotional, and emotions will have me coming back for more, which is a good thing, since this is only book one!

Buy Links:

Amazon

iTunes

Barnes & Noble

Who else read this one? And who else feels like it didn’t get the hype it deserves??

❤ Always, Aimee

Why I Use Trigger Warnings

You’ll notice that in my last review, which you can read here, I made a point to lay out trigger warnings. In the short stories I used to post on this blog (but no longer do because they were for an adult audience, and I am a young adult/new adult writer), I also made sure to preface them with trigger warnings. Now I’m about to explain why.

For those who don’t know or haven’t been around this blog for awhile, I have Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’ve been around the block with other mental health issues, too. Throughout the years, I’ve run up against generalized anxiety disorder, depression, self-harming behaviors, eating disorders, agoraphobia, touch aversion, and insomnia. These are the things that (in my mind), make my C-PTSD not “complex” as much as it is “complicated.”

For those who do know me, they’ll be the first to tell you I am also someone who does not like the way “trigger” is thrown around these days.

Trigger has a specific medical definition. A trigger is a stimulus such a smell, sound, or sight that triggers feelings of trauma. This is why it is most closely related (or used to be) to PTSD. A trigger is not something that makes you feel upset. A trigger is not something that makes you feel uncomfortable. A trigger is not something that makes you grimace and wish you hadn’t read/seen/heard/touched that thing. A trigger is not the predecessor to a mildly uncomfortable feeling.

A trigger is something to be avoided at all costs. A trigger causes anxiety, panic, flashback, nausea, fainting, vomiting, sweating, nightmares, shakes, and tremors. A trigger is, in short, the recipe for a very, very bad time.

A trigger is hearing a mother scream at her children, then having your mind go blank and your eyes glaze over before finding yourself, hours later, with your hands clasped over your ears rocking back and forth in the empty bathtub, all your clothes on, mumbling incoherent protests against a phantom from the past.

A trigger is a boy who looks like that boy brushing up against your arm on the bus, and your mind stealing you away to years before, when it wasn’t just a brush against your arm, and you weren’t on a bus, then only coming out of the fog of memory when a kindly black bus driver kneels in front of you and tells you as gently as her contralto can, that this is the last stop, and is there somewhere you’d like to go?

I rarely use the word trigger. Words have power and when I say the word “trigger” I want it to mean something.

Because it does.

It does not mean uncomfortable or upsetting. Literature is supposed to be uncomfortable and upsetting. It is supposed to make you feel. If literature makes you uncomfortable or upset, it is doing its job. There were a lot of things I listened to in Educated that made me uncomfortable and upset. There are a lot of things I read in books I will five star review in the future that made me uncomfortable and upset. None of them have been triggering to me.

But that last bit is the most important part of this whole thing: to me. I am thirty years old. I have been in and out of therapy seriously since I was nineteen. At this point, I know what most of my triggers are (although sometimes one will sneak up on me). I’ve been able to beat some of them back into the realm where they’re no longer triggers but are just experiences that make me uncomfortable. I’ve had that opportunity, to seek and destroy the things that make life hard to live.

Others haven’t. Not only because some may still be young (this is a blog that is supposed to be teen friendly, for goodness sake), but also because others might not have had the privilege I have had. I know what it’s like to choose between therapy and food. I’ve been there, in my younger days when mental health coverage was worse than it is now and I was poor. Food will win. Every time. I’m fortunate in that I don’t have to make that choice anymore. Others aren’t so privileged. And I recognize that. They haven’t had the time or the means to seek and destroy. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

So I write trigger warnings. Not to devalue the word, far from it. I write trigger warnings because I know how powerful words can be. And I would never, ever want to intentionally shove someone before an altar of their own demons and make them pay.

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As always, take care of yourselves.

❤ Aimee

Consent in Young Adult Fiction

Trigger Warning: This post, while not graphic or descriptive, contains discussion regarding themes of rape as well as consensual sex. 

Author’s Note: This post started out as a lighthearted piece regarding my discomfort with writing sex scenes, but I couldn’t finish it because it wasn’t authentic. I tore it up in favor of this, which is the real reason I struggle with sex scenes. I said I would tell the truth, so here it is, in all its ugliness. Please note the comments on this post will be closely monitored. Discussion is encouraged and welcomed, but due to the sensitivity of this topic, there WILL be censorship if necessary. 


My “first time” was a rape. It took me over a decade to summon the courage to write those words, and I’m not sure how much longer it will take me to publish them. Many of the people closest to me, including my family, still don’t know. If I ever publish this, I suppose they’ll find out.

I will not call it a date rape. I will not dignify the act with some kind of qualifier. I will not amount it to some lesser crime because I thought I loved the boy who forced himself on me. I said no. He said yes. He was stronger. I was afraid and froze like a rabbit before the fox. That is the whole story.

I attempted to fictionalize the experience only once, in a long-short (a longer than average short story). The piece was eviscerated (rightly so) by both my peers and my professor. I handled it with clumsy hands. The subject was too close. After that critique, I put it in a drawer and never looked at it again. I still get a little nauseous thinking about it and the way it felt to hear my professor say the character wasn’t believable.

Writing about sex has always been a challenge for me, and I’d be a fool not to recognize the glaring reason why. Sex is a challenge for me. I have been subjected to a lot of trauma in my life, but this violation is the loudest of all the voices in my head. I have difficulty being touched, I panic when I’m in a crowd, I am prone to fits of unbridled rage when someone sneaks up on me. And all those things are at war with the very real desire to experience human contact. I’m human, after all, and we thrive on contact. It’s difficult to explain the simultaneous pushing and pulling within me when it comes to physical touch, but I’m a writer and in some ways, it’s my duty to try.

Until the revisions of my second book, I was able to avoid sex scenes. I thought I could hide behind the label “young adult”, but the genre is changing, it’s growing, and I want to grow along with it.

After doing some research on the subject and some soul searching, I decided to reconsider the traditional “fade out” I’d hidden behind before. Make no mistake, the fade out is a tactic I’ve employed in aid of my own comfort, not the reader’s. That’s not to say all authors use it this way, it’s only to say I do. I’ve made no final decisions on what any potential sex scenes will look like in my subsequent works, but I do know if I choose to use this tactic in the future it will be because it’s organic to the story, not because I’m too afraid to confront my own demons.

Demons. That word has been weighing me down lately. I have so many demons, I can’t help but wonder if that’s why the girl with so much potential chose to waste her talent on writing fantasy. Because I want to live among angels, and if I can’t, I will create them.

My characters often speak to me from deep, dark caverns I haven’t yet consciously recognized. Inner truth comes from various places and in different voices, and often, it’s not until I’ve written it that I recognize it for what it is. In The Wheel Mages, the notion of “purity” is challenged. I didn’t realize it until it came forth, but that was something I had to confront in my own life. In this second book, I tackle consent.

You see, I realized that when I wrote that long-short in college, I was trying to handle rape from the wrong side (for me). It was a story that wasn’t ripe for telling, and may not ever be (again, for me). The story I do want to tell, though, is the story of what-could-have-been-but-wasn’t. I’m a fantasy author. I want magic and romance and love and yes, consent.

It’s important to me that my work depicts consent, even if it doesn’t lead to sex. In fact, if it doesn’t lead to sex, better. That’s consent really at play. I don’t think it’s something that’s talked about often enough, and if I can help that conversation along, I am desperate to do so. I often wonder if anyone ever talked to that boy I thought I loved about consent.

I know it’s faux pas to discuss “themes” in your work, to discuss this kind of planning, because when it’s discussed it doesn’t seem quite so organic, but this is important enough for me to break that rule.

So yes, though it may make me uncomfortable, I will take on the topic of sex, and I will do it in young adult fantasy because those are the people most commonly affected by the subject. The Blood Mage will have elements of consent. Spoiler, sorry. Hopefully, it will be done with less clumsy hands than those of the 19-year-old who tried to fictionalize her own rape. Hopefully, it will speak quietly but passionately. Hopefully, it will serve as the voice someone once tried to take from me.