Belle Révolte by Linsey Miller
Emilie des Marais is more at home holding scalpels than embroidery needles and is desperate to escape her noble roots to serve her country as a physician. But society dictates a noble lady cannot perform such gruesome work.
Annette Boucher, overlooked and overworked by her family, wants more from life than her humble beginnings and is desperate to be trained in magic. So when a strange noble girl offers Annette the chance of a lifetime, she accepts.
Emilie and Annette swap lives—Annette attends finishing school as a noble lady to be trained in the ways of divination, while Emilie enrolls to be a physician’s assistant, using her natural magical talent to save lives.
But when their nation instigates a frivolous war, Emilie and Annette must work together to help the rebellion end a war that is based on lies.
Trigger Warning: Belle Révolte includes descriptions of violence.
Emilie des Marais and Annette Boucher come from different worlds: one is noble-born, while the other “ate dirt as a child.” One wishes to be a physician in a man’s world, while the other wishes to to study magic at whatever cost. Miller’s world is like a detailed quilt of fantasy tropes – a world of gendered magics, alchemy, magical schools, class struggles, switched identities, a simmering political uprising, and rebellious wealthy teens. This is not to say that some of her inventions aren’t unique and interesting, but much of the book relies heavily on familiar motifs to carry the story.
What makes much of Belle Révolte interesting is Miller’s exploration of gender, sexuality, and power. In the French-coded country of Demaine, magic is offered as a binary. The midnight arts, including the arts of scrying, divination, and alchemy, is traditionally considered women’s work; the noonday arts, where magic is channeled into medicine, is for men (coincidentally, the king is a noonday artist). Emilie wishes to escape her mother’s rigid ideas of what young womanhood should look like for a girl of noble birth and study the noonday arts, calling to mind similar themes in Makenzi Lee’s A Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy.
In addition to the gendered societal constraints, there is a burgeoning revolt among the country’s lower class citizens, inspired by the anonymous revolutionary Laurel, who broadcasts evidence of the crown’s corruption across Demaine. The wealthy feed off the poor, using them as “hacks” to channel their magic so as not to wear down their bodies. Annette, who is worried about spending her entire life in servitude to a wealthy artist, jumps at the chance to study at the finishing school Emilie is meant to attend. Emilie runs to the university while Annette takes her place, and soon, both girls become mired in the political goings-on at their respective schools, and eventually, in the oncoming war itself.
If all of this sounds complicated, it’s because it is. Miller’s book could have used a lot more editing than it received – while the story becomes increasingly enjoyable as time goes on, the first third of the book is almost painfully slow. The political plotline is convoluted and dense, and I often had to repeat passages or reference early parts of the book to understand what was going on. That being said, Miller’s prose is lovely, and despite her use of tried-and-true fantasy tropes, her strengths lie in her characters and their relationships. Both the story’s main characters and its supporting players are well-rounded and complex; many of these characters also fall somewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, and their storylines are treated with nuance and care. Though some readers will certainly be turned off by the book’s slow start, teens who enjoy political intrigue, magic, light romance, and books with multiple perspectives will be entertained by this.
Adaptions: Belle Révolte would be best suited as a film. The cinematic plot and interesting magic system would make for great visuals.
Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson
Korey Fields is dead.
When Enchanted Jones wakes with blood on her hands and zero memory of the previous night, no one—the police and Korey’s fans included—has more questions than she does. All she really knows is that this isn’t how things are supposed to be. Korey was Enchanted’s ticket to stardom.
Before there was a dead body, Enchanted was an aspiring singer, struggling with her tight knit family’s recent move to the suburbs while trying to find her place as the lone Black girl in high school. But then legendary R&B artist Korey Fields spots her at an audition. And suddenly her dream of being a professional singer takes flight.
Enchanted is dazzled by Korey’s luxurious life but soon her dream turns into a nightmare. Behind Korey’s charm and star power hides a dark side, one that wants to control her every move, with rage and consequences. Except now he’s dead and the police are at the door. Who killed Korey Fields?
All signs point to Enchanted.
Trigger Warning: Grown includes descriptions of abuse, sexual assault, and a toxic relationship.
Grown is not a horror story, but it is terrifying; Jackson wrote a heavy, brutal book. The story is difficult to look at straight on, but it’s also impossible to look away from. The book begins with a gruesome scene: Enchanted Jones wakes up in a room filled with blood and a dead man on a bed, a knife between them. She doesn’t know what happened, only that she’s glad he’s dead. But this isn’t the most horrifying part of the book.
Almost immediately, the reader is ripped backwards through time to the beginning of Enchanted’s story. When Enchanted meets Korey Fields, she is excited and hopeful; finally, this professional in the industry sees something in her and thinks she can make it. But Enchanted recognizes too late the manipulation and abuse that Korey is capable of, and while she comes to understand that she’s been groomed and ensnared in Korey’s web, she has no idea how to free herself.
When Enchanted comes forward with the truth of what happened to her at the hands of Korey Fields, she is painted as the liar and manipulator. The public cannot believe that this beloved musician would do something so horrifying; therefore, it must be Enchanted at fault. This speaks to the deification of celebrities and other public figures, which leaves victims vulnerable to victim blaming and additional abuse. Think of the responses to films Surviving R. Kelly and Leaving Neverland. As Enchanted railed against the justice system that was failing her, I couldn’t help but think of the cases of Cyntoia Brown and Chrystul Kizer, both of whom were imprisoned for killing their traffickers in self-defense as teenagers.
What Jackson does particularly well in this book is the delicate nuance of character. She does not condescend to her characters – some authors may have painted Enchanted like a naive fool, others as a helpless victim. But Jackson so frighteningly and accurately portrays how abusers pull their victims in before they even have a chance to realize that something is wrong. Enchanted is strong, and she is smart, but she is a kid. And that is what makes this book so important. Grown so deftly mirrors recent current events and is a vital addition to the bevy of #MeToo literature that has sprung up in the last few years. It shows how Black women especially are maligned and ignored and blamed at every turn when violence is committed against them, and how frequently Black girls are denied their very childhoods.
Grown asks us to question not only how truth is defined and decided in our justice system, but also the ease with which young girls are left vulnerable by a system that functions on technicalities and laws that uphold white supremacy. As Ms. Jackson states clearly in her author’s note, “…this book was inspired by a case…but this book is not about R. Kelly.” It is about abuse and abuse of power, about the systems we uphold that leave young girls vulnerable and without hope. The novel’s final chilling revelations do nothing to assuage the fear and discomfort this story inspires, which feels very intentional on Jackson’s part. It is not an easy book, but it is an important one.
Adaptions: Grown would be best suited by a TV show – the book’s heavy content would be difficult to sit through as a film, but with the story’s various subplots and flashbacks, it would make for a great mini-series.
Winner: Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson
This was an incredibly easy choice. While I enjoyed both books, Belle Révolte is fun but feels ultimately inconsequential next to Grown. Of course, these books are also quite different in every way, so they won’t necessarily appeal to the same readers. But when given the choice, Grown is the clear frontrunner. Jackson’s book is a monumentally difficult one to read, but I’m so glad that it’s in the world. Teens who feel they can handle the heavy content will love Enchanted’s strong voice, the book’s pacing, and the tight spiral of action that leads to the final, frightening moments.
Mariel Fechik is a Teen Services Advisor at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library. She is a musician, a poet, and a lover of YA lit.