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To Best the Boys Hardcover – 4 Apr 2019
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'Feminist YA that Doesn't Disappoint'--School Library Journal
'Weber's fantasy delves into themes of social class, feminism, gender roles, and love.'--School Library Journal
'This book is one of a kind. We couldn't put it down and didn't want it to end. There's science, and romance. There's characters to love and ones to hate. There's bits of mystery and feminism. There's something for everyone.'--Swoony Boys Podcast
'This was impossible to put down and absolutely engrossing -- I was fully enveloped in this world and contest. . . I highly recommend for all lovers of YA fantasy.'--YA Books Central, 5/5 stars
'Mary Weber continues her lyrical world building with a historic, fantastical twist while also giving us characters who portray so much more of the multi-dimensional world we live in. Perhaps my favorite thing about this novel is the ability it has to stay grounded, to show us characters who are so often unrepresented and to remind us that we all can fight and play our part for a better world and a better future.'--Bowling Green Daily News
About the Author
Mary Weber is the author of the Scholastic Pick, Christy, Carol, and INSPY Award winning young adult novel Storm Siren and the Storm Siren Trilogy. As a conference and avid school speaker, Weber's passion is helping others find their voice amid a too-loud world. In her spare time she sings '80s songs to her three muggle children and ogles her husband, who looks strikingly like Wolverine. They live in California, which is perfect for stalking tacos and the ocean. Connect with Mary online at MaryWeber.com; Facebook: Mary Weber, Author; Instagram: MaryWeberAuthor; Twitter: @MChristineWeber.
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I also liked that this book wasn’t Rhen against the world, so many books like this would choose to make her the lone girl among a society of boys (I don’t think we can deny that I’m calling out another maze based franchise here…). That Weber opted to write in Seleni, Rhen’s cousin, to go through the book with her was a wonderful choice – it would have been a very different (and much worse) book without her.
Where this book falls short is in the world building. The concept of this competition for a scholarship is strong, and it feels like the author knows what has led up to this, there are details and ideas in there that hint at a wider understanding, but that isn’t really shared with the audience. If I was asked to describe the setting in which this book takes place, from geography to technology to clothing – I think I would be pretty stumped. It’s also a fairly non-grounded magic system, my preference is for some harder rules in place if you’re going to have even a semblance of magic. This actually reminded me a little of the problems I had with Caraval, where the intention is clearly to disorientate an audience and make them unsure as to what is real – but you never really get a resolution so it’s just confusing.
With tighter worldbuilding, I think I could have loved this book. I enjoy books that involve solving puzzles and that involve women fighting against the system. Unfortunately, I have to say there are much stronger contenders on the market at the moment and this book doesn’t have enough depth of worldbuilding for me to be able to wholeheartedly recommend it.
If you have a copy of this book in your local library and you fancy reading something with a bit of girl power and science then it may be worth a go. I’m not sure I’d be rushing out to buy the hardback at this point in time. Perhaps with a re-read, it might reveal some more detail?
My rating: 3/5 stars
I received a free digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
To Best the Boys was my first Mary Weber book, but it definitely won't be my last! I absolutely loved every aspect of the world she built which was full of fantasy, friendship, historical fiction, science and magic.
The world itself was unique. I loved how she blended a believable world of science set back in a historical time with a magical one. The story was so immersive I forgot on several occasions that I wasn't just reading historical fiction. During those times, a fantasy element would pop up and surprise me such as the wail of a siren or the glimpse of a ghoul at night. I loved those subtle mentions of a world that was clearly not our own!
The variety of characters, especially males, in this story was astounding. Rhen's female coming of age story definitely has it's many difficult characters including patronizing elderly males and the male friend who thinks women should be content to only marry. However, it also shows you the male friend that encourages Rhen to keep trying and a father that treats his daughter as an intelligent equal. I understand that this tale seems to be a feminist story, but I appreciated that the author never bashed the opposite sex to tell it. The author merely presents you with a variety of good and bad characters and let's you make up your own mind from their actions while reading. This is so rare and I appreciateThis story just proves you can uplift those that need it without tearing down others. There were also several representations of disabilities and different types of families that blended in seamlessly with the story. I loved that it felt completely natural and not overdone.
I loved that this story took it's time in the beginning to develop all of these characters, the middle with the maze contest, and an ending that never felt rushed. I really enjoyed reading about Rhen, Seleni, Beryll and Lute. Rhen's home life, love for her family and education through her father is what truly led her to the maze and I'm glad the author took the time to make it more than a story about a contest.
This story felt like a letter to girls everywhere or to anyone that finds themselves too scared to follow their dreams. I highly recommend it if you need an uplifting fantasy story that will keep you turning pages, put a smile on your face and make your day!
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. Thank you so much to the publisher, the author and NetGalley.
I've waited to read this book for a bit, because of other commitments and I kept seeing it and it called to me.
There's just something about Mary Weber's books which draw you in even when the book is closed! They hauntingly call to you. This was one such book!
At first, I thought oh a fun story about young girls dupping boys, but there was so much more to this story! After all, it is a Mary Weber book! If you've ever read any of her books you know she writes with just a touch of fantasy in a real world which will make you think, "Wait, can that be possible?"
This story shows how a girl of lower class can have dreams, drive, and skills to achieve anything a boy can.
I love the picture of strength and courage Rhen uses, to meet all the challenges she has. I also love the fun relationship she has with her cousin. Even though Rhen feels alone, she really does have someone who is there for her.
I want to thank Mary Weber for choosing to place in this book many characters whom the world might not notice. Those, who might be shunned or looked down upon. She brings to life the sweetness and courage of these people.
This book will be one I'll carry with me for a long time. It was full of wonder, strength, courage, hope, and yet there were bits of darkness, mystery, magic, suspense, and romance. (I liked the last bit on that list!)
What truly stood out for me was - HAVE COURAGE! Dare to dream and dream big!
I highly recommend you pick this book up! But be prepared to possibly not be able to put it down!
Author: the reading chemist
To Best the Boys
Author: Mary Weber
Publication Date: 19 March 2019
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Every year for the past fifty-four years, the residents of Pinsbury Port receive a mysterious letter inviting all eligible-aged boys to compete for an esteemed scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University. Every year, the poorer residents look to see that their names are on the list. The wealthier look to see how likely their sons are to survive. And Rhen Tellur opens it to see if she can derive which substances the ink and parchment are created from, using her father’s microscope.
In the province of Caldon, where women are trained in wifely duties and men are encouraged into collegiate education, sixteen-year-old Rhen Tellur wants nothing more than to become a scientist. As the poor of her seaside town fall prey to a deadly disease, she and her father work desperately to find a cure. But when her Mum succumbs to it as well? Rhen decides to take the future into her own hands—through the annual all-male scholarship competition.
With her cousin, Seleni, by her side, the girls don disguises and enter Mr. Holm’s labyrinth, to best the boys and claim the scholarship prize. Except not everyone’s ready for a girl who doesn’t know her place. And not everyone survives the maze.
I’m going to start this review by saying that as a female organic chemist in a group where I’ve been the only female, this book spoke to the inner doubts of my soul. This was one of those stories that reminded me why I have stayed within my field for so long knowing that it is male dominated and the odds will always be against me.
This is centered around the life of Rhen Tellur. She is a precocious and fiercely independent seventeen-year-old girl whose entire life mission is to bury herself in scientific experiments with her father to find a cure to a disease that is not only ravaging her community but her mother as well. Rhen realizes that their combined efforts are futile whilst using the rudimentary laboratory equipment and supplies she has access to, so she formulates a plan to disguise herself as a boy to enter the labyrinth competition for a prestigious scholarship to attend the all-male Stemwick University, which is sponsored by the mysterious and magical Mr. Holm (who is financially endowed).
I fully empathized with Rhen, and I absolutely loved watching her character develop throughout the story. I found her humble beginnings absolutely heartbreaking because this hit so close to home. I personally comprehend what it is like to have familial troubles be the driving force for an education and not letting anyone or anything stand in your path to success. What made me love Rhen even more is even though she knows that she has a disadvantage, she refuses to allow anyone to pity her or receive a handout. Her mother was disowned from a prominent, aristocratic family because she married Rhen’s father who was of a lower class. Rhen is invited to the elaborate events hosted by her aunt and uncle, but she refuses to immerse herself in that world where people like her are consistently mocked for their inability to overcome their dire situations.
As far as action goes for this book, it is a slow builder, so don’t go into this thinking that each page is going to knock your socks off. The first half of the story lays the foundation for Rhen’s character. You see her digging into the chest cavity of a cadaver, analyzing blood smears under a microscope, and evaluation concoctions to be injected into her rat subject, Lady. I think to most, this is the “boring part” of the story since it’s much more technical but without much “action”. However, as a fellow scientist, I was gripping my seat to know the compositions of her solutions and the findings under her microscope, but hey, not for everyone. To me, this part of the book really highlights how dire Rhen’s situation is because without the advanced scientific training, Rhen and her father will never find a cure for her dying mother.
Once Rhen and the other contestants enter the labyrinth to compete for the coveted scholarship to Stemwick University, I could not read the pages fast enough. So much action happens in such a short time span (due to the challenges that contestants are faced with), which left my head spinning trying to comprehend what I read. The assumptions that I had about other side characters as well as the conclusion were completely unexpected.
This book is what girl who aspire to dream big in the STEM fields have been waiting for. Bravo Mary Weber. This was truly an inspiring and heartfelt read!
Thank you NetGalley and Thomas Nelson for an eARC. This did not influence my review. All opinions are my own.