Happy Saturday, Reading Nook!
I'm proud to share one of my favorite reads from the beginning of this year: Becoming Jinn by Lori Goldstein.
It's a fun, thoughtful look at a girl struggling with a destiny she doesn't want, and trying to take control in a world that she thought she understood, but is far murkier than she realized.
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published April 21st 2015 by Feiwel & Friends
Format read: ARC via publisher
Azra has just turned sixteen, and overnight her body lengthens, her olive skin deepens, and her eyes glisten gold thanks to the brand-new silver bangle that locks around her wrist. As she always knew it would, her Jinn ancestry brings not just magical powers but the reality of a life of servitude, as her wish granting is controlled by a remote ruling class of Jinn known as the Afrit.
To the humans she lives among, she’s just the girl working at the snack bar at the beach, navigating the fryer and her first crush. But behind closed doors, she’s learning how to harness her powers and fulfill the obligations of her destiny.
Mentored by her mother and her Zar “sisters”, Azra discovers she may not be quite like the rest of her circle of female Jinn . . . and that her powers could endanger them all. As Azra uncovers the darker world of becoming Jinn, she realizes when genies and wishes are involved, there’s always a trick.
Things that worked:
From the start, it's clear that Azra isn't going to be your average heroine. Whereas most characters would likely be running around in joy at the idea of (reasonably) unlimited powers landing on one's 16th birthday, Azar is dreading it.
And it makes sense. Goldstein presents a compelling argument of realizing that while magical powers may be great, they also come out a price, including a certain loss of agency and autonomy. Even while Goldstein makes it clear that
It's one that Azra isn't necessarily willing to pay, and Goldstein shows how Azra deals with both the benefits of her new position, and the price of power.
Goldstein approaches her story like an onion - to borrow a Joss Whedon-ism - she has a fully fleshed-out world, which she slowly unveils to the reader in layers. We learn the fundamentals of Azra gaining her powers, and then the reader begins to learn more and more abou the impact of said powers, and how these powers play out against the world on a larger whole.
The book is especially adept at showing that there are many layers to the story beyond Azra's own life, and it's not just her world that's impacted as she begins to grow into and grapples with her powers, but the greater world at large.
The romance factor
While I generally don't like complex and messy romances in books like these, Goldstein does a fantastic job of showing why the romantic interests work. I think that they add much-needed dimensions to Azra's personal development and
The friendships/personal relationships
One of Becoming Jinn's greatest strong suits is its focus on sisterhood and the relationships between the key females of the novel. Even if Azra doesn't necessarily like her sisterhood, she understands their reliance on one another, and how it's important to have a network who can understand her unique challenges, as they undergo the exploration/growth of their powers together.
I think that readers will also really appreciate Azra's relationship with her mother, and the fact that they are clearly two women with very different backgrounds, who unique understand their challenges. There's a lot to be explored between their mother and daughter relationship, and I'm really looking forward to it.
THAT ENDING. Goldstein has set up an ending with intrigue and more than just a hint of political dysfunction, and I can't wait to see what happens next.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
I was a little confused as to how the specific biology of creating Jinn children worked - something about the intermixing of DNA, so physical procreation isn't required? - but I think that's more of a fault of my reading too fast, than anything else. I'm planning on reading the book again ASAP, so I'm sure I'll figure it out.
On personality traits:
I've seen a few reviews criticize Azra's constant negativity. While I agree that Azra isn't exactly a ray of sunshine, I actually think it's important and very notable that Lori chose to characterize her with that type of personality. Teens are angsty and full of drama, especially when they're dealing with significant, irreversible changes in their lives.
The fact that Lori remains true to that, will likely resonate with a lot of teen readers, and let them know that they aren't feeling alone, nor is there anything wrong with them for feeling a certain way. It's a subtle but important lesson.
I can't wait to see where Lori takes Azra on her journey, and for an even more in-depth look at the politics and dynamics of the Jinn world.
Highly recommend for urban fantasy fans, and for readers who enjoy contemporary fiction, with a twist.