McLemore poignantly uses magical realism to explore gender identity and neurodiversity, an approach that helps trans teens feel seen and empowers all readers to understand the layered and complex aspects of learning differences. Though the motives of the magical system are muddy at times, McLemore’s empathetic descriptions of how Bastián experiences their ADHD and how Lore understands their dyslexia couldn’t be clearer. As Lore defiantly states, “I’m a brown girl, just like I’m a brown guy, just like I’m both and neither, in different proportions depending on the day,” “Lakelore” celebrates the power and inaccurate elegance to claim your own truth.
THIS WOVEN KINGDOM
By Tahereh Mafi
495 pp. HarperCollins. $19.99.
(from 13 years)
Forbidden Romance steams through the pages of this Persian mythology-inspired opener to the fantasy series.
In “This Woven Kingdom,” Mafi — best known for her YA dystopian thriller series “Shatter Me” and, more recently, her National Book Award-nominated novel “A Very Large Expanse of Sea” — creates a luxurious, saffron-scented world, where devils whisper unwanted prophecies and princes fall in love with the icy-eyed Jinn.
The story, which is steeped in aspects of Islamic and Iranian culture, follows two teenagers: Alizeh and Kamran. In the bustling capital of Ardunia, Alizeh is a lone servant who scrubs toilets by day and sews dresses for the royal family by night. She wears a snoda, or head and face covering, not only to indicate her low status, but also to hide her exceptional beauty and disturbingly pale blue eyes. In reality, Alizeh is actually a jinn of royal birth who lives in hiding until she can reclaim her throne from the Clay – humans who have forced her humans to suppress their supernatural talents and bend to human law. Meanwhile, Kamran is a reluctant Clay Prince about to ascend the Ardonian throne. He is a warrior who prefers battle to politics.
When Kamran witnesses the aftermath of a street attack on Alizeh, in which she deftly disarms her attacker, he is so intrigued that he seeks her out. After meeting, they soon form a bond so passionate it can destroy souls and overthrow kingdoms, but the divide between their social classes makes it nearly impossible to admit their love for each other.
Hopeless romantics will revel in the euphoric torment of anticipation as they watch these ill-fated lovers process their feelings. But as the relationship between Alizeh and Kamran develops, Mafi treats readers to a lavish world-building. Like an intricate Islamic wall of flowers, Mafi’s story purposefully expands, with each little revelation springing up from the last, yielding very satisfying revelations at the end of each chapter. After several misunderstandings, some double crosses and a very heated make-out session, Alizeh and Kamran finally come together to be torn apart in a breathtaking cliffhanger. The wait for a return ticket to this beautiful kingdom is only made bearable by turning forward and repeating your first visit.