Fresh Ink — Lamar Giles (ARC/Anthology Review)

May 7, 2018

Fresh Ink by Lamar Giles

TITLE: Fresh Ink
EDITOR: Lamar Giles
RELEASES: August 14th, 2018; Crown Books for Young Readers
GENRE: Contemporary, Sci-fi, Anthology
SYNOPSIS: Careful–you are holding fresh ink. And not hot-off-the-press, still-drying-in-your-hands ink. Instead, you are holding twelve stories with endings that are still being written–whose next chapters are up to you.
Because these stories are meant to be read. And shared.
Thirteen of the most accomplished YA authors deliver a label-defying anthology that includes ten short stories, a graphic novel, and a one-act play. This collection will inspire you to break conventions, bend the rules, and color outside the lines. All you need is fresh ink.


More often than not, if I ran across a character who shared my race and gender in a book he was a gross stereotype, comic relief, token sidekick, or, depending on the genre (I’m looking at you, science fiction, fantasy, and horror), there to die so the real hero could fight another day.

I love anthologies, and I love getting the opportunity to promote authors of color and diverse books, so as soon as I learned that the co-founder of the We Need Diverse Books movement was editing this anthology, I had to grab it—and I am so happy that I did.


Before I get into the full breakdown, I’d like to give shout-outs to a few of my favorites from the collection, which were Why I Learned to Cook by Sara Farizan, which gave me all of the happy cutesy feels; One Voice by Melissa de la Cruz, which broke my heart in the best way; and Super Human by Nicola Yoon, which reminded me that even bullet-proof superheroes are capable of having their hearts broken by this world.

→ Eraser Tattoo — Jason Reynolds ★★★★☆ ←
“No. We were five. That ain’t count. You told everybody you loved them back then. You used to kiss your juice boxes after you drank them and tell the straw the same thing.”

What an absolutely precious beginning to the anthology: a teen couple swapping eraser tattoos and memories before one of them is uprooted to another state with her family. Not only is this story hilarious, sweet, and a little bit of a tearjerker, but it also takes a moment to show the microaggressions black individuals face in even quiet moments, like the general disregard and rudeness the characters are treated with by the white couple moving into Shay’s former home. I already knew I’d love anything Jason wrote for this collection, but this was honestly the most wonderful beginning to the book.

Rep: black

→ Meet Cute — Malinda Lo ★★★★☆ ←
That was the problem with being queer. You should never assume, but if you didn’t assume, you had to ask. And asking directly was so hard to do.

Okay, no lie, this geeky little f/f story about a fandom convention just about made me squeal because one of the girls is cosplaying as a black Agent Scully, and I grew up the biggest X-Files fan, so… I was automatically dying over the little inside jokes and references. I’m not a Trekkie at all, but Malinda Lo goes easy enough on those bits that I didn’t feel like I was “missing the joke” or anything, and these girls are just so damn cute and geeky. There’s also some important internal monologuing about how hard it is to be a queer person in the dating world, especially when you don’t know if the person you’re into is queer, too! While the title for this story is perfect, it’s not insta-lovey at all, and overall, my geeky little queer heart was just so here for this one! ♥

Rep: Asian-american, black, f/f

→ Don’t Pass Me By — Eric Gansworth ★★★★☆ ←
“This color,” I said, tapping the box of Flesh on his desk. “Its name doesn’t cover everyone.”

After how cute and sweet the first two stories were, this one took me by surprise with how heavy and sad it was: a narrative of a seventh-grade Native boy in a school full of white kids in the 70s, where he has to deal not only with microaggressions and outright racism, but also the fact that of the few other Native kids in his school, many of them are light-skinned and “passing” enough to shun him, too. He stands up for himself and it is such an empowering story, but it also hit me really hard on a personal note. My grandmother (rest her soul) was half-Native, and not white passing. I remember stories she told me about feeling excluded because of her skin color or her features, and how disconnected and erased she felt from her culture in a country that has tried so hard to forget Native people. It absolutely breaks my heart that Native people have been cast aside so much, and for so long, but stories like this—and like hers—truly need to be told.

Rep: Native

→ Be Cool for Once — Aminah Mae Safi ★★★★☆ ←
Biohazard: may cause heart to burst.

This wasn’t my favorite story so far, but it was super cute, and it perfectly captured the joys of concert-going for music-loving teens, so that alone was fantastic. It features a Muslim girl and her best friend, who run into the main character’s crush at a concert and she’s forced to face down her long-held secret feelings for him. Not only is there some cute lesbian rep on the side with her best friend, but the whole scene is really sweet and humorous. There are several references to Islamic practices, too, which I found so interesting and precious. ♥

Rep: Muslim, Japanese, f/f (side characters)

→ Tags — Walter Dean Myers ★★★★☆ ←
“We got our tags on the wall and people can see we were real, and they’re thinking about us. But we ain’t resting because we got to stay ahead of people cleaning the walls.”

This is a unique piece of the collection, as it’s actually a play, and man, did this one hit me hard. It’s a story of a few dead young black men, tagging walls in the afterlife as they discuss their memorials, how they died, and how they keep their own memories alive with their tags. There’s a devastating twist at the end, and a lot of subtle commentary on the way a corrupted and damaged “justice” system terrifies and warps the psyches of marginalized individuals, particularly black men. When I finished reading the story and realized where I knew the name from, and remembered that this author actually passed away a few years ago, it added some sort of extra heartbreak to think that even in his seventies, Walter was still having to write about the same injustices and cruelty he’d witnessed his entire life.

Rep: black

→ Why I Learned to Cook — Sara Farizan ★★★★★ ←
“You never apologize for taking up space, Yasaman.”

Okay, this might have been THE cutest, sweetest, and happiest story so far. Yasaman is a young Iranian bi girl who wants to introduce her girlfriend to her immigrant grandmother, but has been too scared to do so. In hopes of preparing herself for the big event, she has her grandmother teach her how to cook vegetarian versions of authentic Persian foods, and the entire story is just filled with grandmother/granddaughter bonding and important lessons about never apologizing for who you are and what your culture is. With how much I miss my own grandmother, I’m such a sucker for grandmotherly figures in stories, so this actually brought a few happy tears to my eyes! ♥

Rep: Iranian, f/f

→ A Stranger at the Bochinche — Daniel José Older ★★☆☆☆←
He let another silent prayer rise inside him, the one said to call on one’s warrior spirits before battle, and we gathered in the thick air around him.

Sadly, this is the first story I haven’t enjoyed in this collection, and I genuinely did not like it at all. It’s a sci-fi short, but it doesn’t feel like a short story; instead, it felt like I was just reading a passage taken out of context from a larger novel. There’s no explanation to any of the action going on, you’re just dumped right into the center of it, and I had no chance of connecting with the plot or characters in any way. There’s war, rival groups, guardian spirits, and suddenly, aliens? It didn’t work for me.

Rep: Latinx

→ A Boy’s Duty — Sharon G. Flake ★★★☆☆ ←
What’s a boy’s duty to himself?

Unfortunately, this historical fiction story made two in a row that I just couldn’t quite connect to; while the last one was “too much”, this one was just a mixture of boring and plotless. A young man sits in a café, observing the people around him and thinking about his father’s farm, the thieving boys he’s friends with, and his dreams of joining the Navy and becoming a sailor during WWII. There’s just not much of anything going on, the characters are mostly wholly unlikable, and I wasn’t a fan, sadly.

Rep: black

→ One Voice: A Something in Between Story — Melissa de la Cruz ★★★★★ ←
I wanted America to want me because I was already a part of the fabric of the country.

My god, you guys… this story is heavy and relevant and so, so good. The narrator is a Stanford student whose family moved to California from the Philippines when she was a child, and she lives in constant fear of deportation. She talks about how she didn’t know her documentation wasn’t proper until she applied for college, and she had to jump through hoops to be allowed to stay, including forfeiting her rights to a scholarship she had worked hard to earn. The plot of the story follows her throughout a few days at her college in which racial slurs are spray painted on buildings and vehicles, and she laments the fact that her white-passing boyfriend isn’t able to understand why she feels so unsafe at their school. It’s just a tremendously sad and realistic depiction of something that so many people in the US are going through right now, and if there is one story in this collection so far that I find to be the most relevant to 2018’s sociopolitical climate, it’s this one.

Rep: Filipinx, black, latinx

→ Paladin/Samurai — Gene Luen Yang ★★★☆☆ ←

This little story is told through a comic strip, which is a neat addition to the anthology and a fun break from the standard text formatting. It’s about a Japanese-American teen who faces erasure from his group of friends while playing Swords and Spells (essentially D&D). While it’s a cute short, I wish more had taken place to address what legitimately jerks his friends were being, instead of it being swept under the rug at the end.

Rep: Japanese

→ Catch, Pull, Drive — Schuyler Bailar ★★★★★ ←
Beneath the surface, I am not the girl everyone says I’m supposed to be—in fact, I’m not even sure I’m a person. I’m just swimming. I am a singular action, proof that I am alive and powerful.

Oh my god, I love this story so much! It’s a first-person narrative of a trans teen who is at his first swim meet after coming out to his team and all his friends. There are a lot of transphobic terms and homophobic slurs in this one, so trigger warnings abound, but it’s such a beautiful narrative. It meant even more to me once I found out that the author is a swimmer himself, and more than that, is the first openly transgender NCAA Division I swimmer ever and the first publicly outed trans men to compete in any NCAA men’s sport! He’s kind of my new hero. The last thing I want to point out about this story is that it also features some amazing parental love and acceptance regarding his coming out, which was so sweet. ♥ (Side note: This is the first story in the collection to not make any reference to the protagonist’s race, so I didn’t mention that in the “rep” section below, but the author is Korean-American.)

Rep: trans

→ Super Human — Nicola Yoon ★★★★★ ←
Always the wrong place. Always the wrong time. A country that did not value his life.

Okay, this story… I knew Nicola’s story would be good. I don’t think her novels are perfect, but she has a way of writing that is always capable of hitting me hard, and I expected this to be no exception, but I didn’t think it would break my heart so much. It tells the story of a seventeen-year-old black girl who is sent to attempt to reason with X, nicknamed the “Black Superman”, who has decided to forsake his humanity-saving tactics in favor of wiping out the population instead. When she learns what changed his mind, it’s absolutely shattering. I’m choking up just writing this review, thinking about the society that I live in and how utterly and completely broken this system is. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, only because this is a story that you need to soak in, to allow it to hit you in the chest the way it did for me, but I will say that it was the perfect ending to this anthology, and I will carry it with me.

Rep: black

My star ratings for each individual story averaged out to a perfect 4 out of 5, but honestly, this is the best anthology I’ve read in my life. It is so poignant, and haunting, and gorgeous, and solidly written, that I have to bump it up to 5 stars. It deserves nothing less. ♥

All quotes come from an advance copy and may not match the final release. Thank you so much to Crown Books for Young Readers for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review!


More about Destiny @ Howling Libraries

Just a horror aficionado/geek girl trying to juggle motherhood, reading, blogging, gaming, and everyday life.

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    1. I still have this as an eARC that I need to read but I have a couple of arcs to read first. Awesome review!

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