Size Doesn’t Matter (167): In a Perfect World; Valiant

I received this book for free from ALA in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Size Doesn’t Matter (167): In a Perfect World; ValiantIn a Perfect World by Trish Doller
Published by Simon Pulse on May 23, 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 294
Format: ARC
Source: ALA
AmazonThe Book Depository

Caroline Kelly is excited to be spending her summer vacation working at the local amusement park with her best friend, exploring weird Ohio with her boyfriend, and attending soccer camp with the hope she’ll be her team’s captain in the fall.

But when Caroline’s mother is hired to open an eye clinic in Cairo, Egypt, Caroline’s plans are upended. Caroline is now expected to spend her summer and her senior year in a foreign country, away from her friends, her home, and everything she’s ever known.

With this move, Caroline predicts she’ll spend her time navigating crowded streets, eating unfamiliar food, and having terrible bouts of homesickness. But when she finds instead is a culture that surprises her, a city that astounds her, and a charming, unpredictable boy who challenges everything she thought she knew about life, love, and privilege.

Trish Doller has come to be widely recognized (at least by me) as one of the major talents of YA fiction. She stands out for me because she often writes books that aren’t so much Christina books but somehow they’re so good that they end up being Christina books. In a Perfect World is the most Christina of her books so far. I felt a bit disconnected from it emotionally, but it definitely delivers in terms of quality.

To be fair, June was a rough reading month, and, though I read through it, I was a bit mid-slump when I picked up In a Perfect World. It’s entirely possible that when I reread, I’ll give it the five star I’m not today. Plus, I think I was too emotionally guarded, because I didn’t trust that something this happy could come out of Trish (who I love but who does tend to write heart-stomping fiction). On a reread, I suspect I’ll raise the rating. But for now, this is how I felt.

Caroline has big plans for the summer. Well, okay, not big so much as dorky. But hey, a dorky job at an amusement park becomes awesome when you’re working with your bestie. But then Caroline’s mom gets chosen to run a volunteer clinic in a poor district in Cairo, Egypt. Caroline and her mom transplant to Cairo for a year, moving Caroline for the summer and for the next school year.

The first thing I love about In a Perfect World is that Trish pulls off the balance between being grumpy at the change of plans and excited to live in a new place. Initially, Caroline’s fearful and lonely, but she quickly embraces the awesomeness of this new experience. The setting’s well-crafted, and it very much felt a little bit like I was actually there.

The whole book is about Caroline confronting her white privilege, something she’s very willing to do. There’s a very thoughtful portrayal of Islam, partly because there are so many different Muslim people with such a wide swath of personalities and interests. It’s an important book in our current political climate. Yes, it’s from the perspective of a white person again, but at least it’s nuanced and developed. I also really liked the treatment of sexism and Caroline’s highlighting of male privilege in return to Adam. In a Perfect World also deals with the subject of terrorism, and I think the treatment clearly shows the complexities that Americans don’t tend to understand.

The ship, though not one of my OTP level obsessions, is very sweet. Adam and Caroline are very respectful of one another’s boundaries. Given the myriad differences between them, Doller manages to craft a relationship that is healthy and actually seems like it could work. For example, Adam had always  planned to wed a Muslim girl, and he hadn’t expected to date, because he didn’t really think it was right. Even once he expressed interest, Caroline made sure that he was the one to move their relationship forward physically, because she didn’t want to push him into anything he wasn’t comfortable with. This is also a really unique relationship dynamic for YA. They fight and struggle and work through their relationship problems in a mature, realistic way.

In a Perfect World is a beautiful and timely interracial romance. You can’t go wrong with a Doller novel. Read this one, and then dive into her backlist.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

Only pretend that’s Cairo, not Florence

Size Doesn’t Matter (167): In a Perfect World; ValiantValiant by Sarah McGuire
Published by EgmontUSA on April 28, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Fairy Tales, Romance, Retelling
Pages: 384
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
AmazonThe Book Depository

Saville despises the bolts of velvet and silk that her father loves- he's always prized them more than he's ever loved her. Yet when he's struck ill, she'll do anything to survive, even donning boys' clothes and begging a commission to sew for the king.

Piecing together a fine coat is far simpler than unknotting court gossip about an army of giants led by a man who cannot be defeated. And they're marching toward Reggen to seize the throne. But Saville knows giants are just stories, and no man is immortal.

Then she meets them, two scouts as tall as trees. She tricks them into leaving, but tales of the daring tailor's triumph quickly spin into impossible feats of giant-slaying. And mere stories won't deter the Duke and his larger-than-life army.

Now only a courageous and clever tailor girl can see beyond the rumors to save the kingdom again.

A couple months ago, I listened to an audiobook of a bunch of Grimms fairy tales (as written by Philip Pullman as closely to the originasl as possible). What struck me most listening to these tales I hadn’t read since high school (for most of them) was how incredibly bad they were. I love fairy tale retellings so much that I’d forgotten how grim most of the actual tales are, with their simplistic and problematic morals. Valiant takes a lesser-used fairy tale, genderflips it, and punches sexism in the face.

Valiant takes as foundation the tale of the tailor who outwits giants and earns the hand of a princess, because, if fairy tales are to be believed, kings will marry their daughters off to absolutely anybody. In this case, that tailor is secretly a girl. Saville has been genderbending in order to earn money tailoring to the king, since her father had some sort of fit and can no longer move. Sav outwits giants in order to save a friend and finds herself expected to marry the princess and be champion to the kingdom. She’s less than thrilled.

Of course, there’s also the handsome cousin/advisor to the king, Galen, to help her out with the complex court dynamics. This ship is pretty damn cute. My favorite thing about it is that Galen admires and respects Sav. He trusts her to take care of herself and others, and he doesn’t do that macho grandstanding bullshit. They’re a great team. And the ending is pretty cute, especially since it shows how little game Galen really has.

Along the way to saving the day, Sav fights sexism, racism (I mean, it’s giants but come on), and makes friends out of basically everyone. It’s a book that shows that strength comes in many forms and packages. Sav’s a brilliant strategist, for example, and the king, for all of his apparent weakness, does his part too. It’s a really sweet and inspiring little tale.

I didn’t get massive feels out of Valiant but it’s precious and does what it’s doing quite well. I very much appreciate that McGuire did something aside from the typical Cinderella or Twelve Dancing Princesses retellings.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:




2 responses to “Size Doesn’t Matter (167): In a Perfect World; Valiant”

  1. Deyse says:

    I had no idea this was the plot of in a perfect world it has def been pushed up on my tbr list

  2. I really liked Valiant too! Not an all-time favorite but I appreciated it for the same reasons: cute ship, lesser known retelling, awesome heroine. I think I’d like it better on a reread too.

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