Becoming Jinn by Lori Goldstein


Author:
 Lori Goldstein
Series: Becoming Jinn (#1)
Read: April 25th-May 3rd
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release Date: April 21st, 2015
Genre: fantasy, YA
Rating: ★★☆

In short: underwhelming. I wish the Jinn had come with a cultural background, and I wish this book hadn’t come with a bratty main character.

Goodreads: Forget everything you thought you knew about genies!

Azra has just turned sixteen, and overnight her body lengthens, her olive skin deepens, and her eyes glisten gold thanks to the brand-new silver bangle that locks around her wrist. As she always knew it would, her Jinn ancestry brings not just magical powers but the reality of a life of servitude, as her wish granting is controlled by a remote ruling class of Jinn known as the Afrit.

To the humans she lives among, she’s just the girl working at the snack bar at the beach, navigating the fryer and her first crush. But behind closed doors, she’s learning how to harness her powers and fulfill the obligations of her destiny.

Mentored by her mother and her Zar “sisters”, Azra discovers she may not be quite like the rest of her circle of female Jinn . . . and that her powers could endanger them all. As Azra uncovers the darker world of becoming Jinn, she realizes when genies and wishes are involved, there’s always a trick.

Overall, this book was pretty underwhelming. The plot was fairly enjoyable—if a little predictable, but what really brought Becoming Jinn down for me was the main character and her bratty behaviour.

≫ THE PLOT:

“Humans are rarely attuned to the things they really want. And most of the time, what they want isn’t actually what they need. It’s your job to figure that out.”

Azra’s now sixteen, and as a fully-grown Jinn she can conjure anything she likes. The catch? The ruling council of the jinn, the Afrit, have strict regulations in place and make sure each jinn is assigned humans for whom they grant wishes. All wish-granting Jinn are women, and they live in bonded sisterhoods called Zars. Most Jinn girls never see their fathers. But the strictest Jinn rule is to stay detached from humans, and to never reveal their powers. Azra hates the rules because of a childhood tragedy that even her model Jinn mother couldn’t fix, and she’s spent years pushing away her to-be Zar sisters and everything to do with the Jinn. But just as she starts to learn the ropes of granting official wishes, she’s realising her precarious position in the Afrit’s machine needs all the support system it can get.

The storyline itself would’ve been more enjoyable if I hadn’t guessed nearly every single twist! Gah.

≫ THE SETTING:
What did kind of disappoint me was that we didn’t actually get a feel of the culture behind the Jinn. I mean, Azra’s Zar sisters and her mother’s all have Middle eastern names, and occasionally refer to the Jinn paradise, Janna, but other than that we get zero feel of a cultural background. Off the top of my head, one reason I really liked Vampire Academy was that it actually did have connections to the countries where vampire myths originated. Here, other than the occasional Arabic-sounding spell and kaftan-wearing? Nope. Becoming Jinn had a fabulous opportunity to explore the culture of an often misunderstood land, and I can’t say I’m not disappointed that it didn’t. Also – their spells are in Latin? Are you kidding me? WHY CAN’T THEIR SPELLS BE IN ARABIC? Yeah, that sucked.

In terms of human non-contact, I felt like the Afrit’s rules got a little too plot-holey for me. So Azra can’t be friends with Henry or Nate, but Mina and Farrah can hang out with boys all the time and Laila can hang out with her school friends? Why is that not attachment?

≫ THE PROTAGONIST:

I was trying to be funny more than bratty.

Buckle up, kids.

I get where the book was trying go where Azra was concerned. Really, I do. I felt bad when I read about what she went through. I get that she’s supposed to be a flawed character who eventually learns to be a better person. But to be completely honest, she came off as bratty more often than not.

I started to wonder why her early loss didn’t put things in perspective for her, because she has such a wonderful support system. Even if she felt like shunning her Zar sisters, her mother and Laila’s mother Samara are honestly so understanding and supportive and amazing.

Aside from the brattyness, the enormous amounts of girl-on-girl hate were so nasty. First with Yasmin, Azra’s Zar sister, who’s awful to her—but okay, at least the book offers some explanation for that. Fair enough. But then with the catty cheerleader Chelsea?

…all Chelsea does is smile. It’s so genuine, I know it’s fake. 

What? I’m so sick of that cliché. And somehow Chelsea recovers from being a 2D fiend to a girl who’s actually kind of nice—but then there’s zero explanation for her bitchiness. What’s with the reversal of attitude?

Tears fall down her cheeks… her freckled cheeks. […] Somehow, it is these tiny speckles that soften her to me, and then soften me toward her.

Uh, what.

But back to Azra.

You’re not like the others. 

I cannot tell you how much I cringe when other characters talk about how ‘special’ the MC is, and this was no exception. Seriously, ANOTHER girl who’s a ‘total dork’ and is pretty much a loner at school, but it turns out everyone is in awe of her aloofness and wow she’s so beautiful! And, no, having several characters point out that she’s pretty flat in the chest department despite her magical makeover does not constitute a flaw. News flash: I do not care about Azra’s chest!

She’s so super smart. And funny. Of course, she doesn’t like me.

When does she do anything that’s smart? She’s so stupid when it comes to the wishes that give her away. Did she really expect no one to notice the garden? Why did she try to grant Zoe’s wish without making sure the door was locked? She refuses to study from the family Jinn handbook because she thinks she can handle everything despite the fact that she knows almost nothing about official wish-granting.  Overall she seems far more reckless and stubborn than ‘super smart.’ Nate, you’re so unreliable when it comes to character judgment!

Nate nods, slowly. “You’re nothing like I imagined, Azra.” […]
“Yeah, well, I guess Chelsea’s not my biggest fan.” [aside: WHY DID SHE EVEN BRING CHELSEA UP HERE?]
She’s just jealous. Practically half the guys in school want to ask you out, but they’re too afraid.”

“You really don’t know? Your whole aloof thing isn’t intentional? Guys have been watching you all year, too scared to approach because of your… your vibe.”

“But I’m not… I’ve never been popular. With the ‘in’ crowd.”
That’s because you don’t want to be.

And other girls are so jealous that all the boys want to ask her out! And of course it takes a makeover and a boy to make her realise it! Whoopee.

“Half afraid to talk to you because you’re so freaking pretty, they knew they didn’t have a shot, and the other half choosing not to talk to you because you’re so freaking pretty, they figured you must be a total bitch.”

Well, they were right on one count…

Then there was a moment when Azra just creeped me the hell out—her little peeping Tom scene with Henry. I don’t know why they didn’t talk about that. I don’t know why it seemed okay to ogle at a guy without him knowing you were in the room. I don’t know why this wasn’t dealt with better, because if the genders were reversed everyone would be talking about how creepy it was. ‘His sculpted butt cheeks’? No no no no. That’s seriously creepy, Azra!

Her character just didn’t work for me. At times she was seriously unlikable, and I don’t think that was the intention.

≫ THE OTHER CHARACTERS:
Most characters I didn’t see enough of to feel fully. I really liked Azra’s mom Kalyssa, and Samara, and Laila (particularly the bit where she called out Azra on her crap. You go.) But the other Zar sisters, I feel like I didn’t get a good enough sense of. They were pretty 2D. Hana was the most rounded of them IMO—I liked that she was an aspiring fashion designer, but also the hardworking, disciplined one. The two are not mutually exclusive, so that felt good. Yasmin starts off as the mean girl who can sometimes have a heart, and…that’s all. Mina and Farrah are depicted as giggly, boy-crazy, and pretty much twins (read: their personalities are interchangeable). Henry is your typical boy next door, only the dorky glasses-wearing type (of course he has a hot bod though). But then there are moments when his behaviour felt wildly out of character, and I was literally wondering if I’d been reading the wrong book. Nate actually kind of reminded me of his Gossip Girl namesake, because he’s too good to be true the golden boy, who seems like just a jock on the surface but actually has depth. Yes, some of the characters are pretty cliché, but if they were done right they’d be really fun—clichés didn’t become clichés for nothing. But what with my serious annoyance at Azra, I (full confession) tended to nitpick and got even more frustrated by the unfleshed-out characters.

≫ OF VILLAINS:
The big bad Afrit council are the story’s villains, although we never actually meet one of them. The thing is, they’re pretty much a dystopian government—they control reproduction, where the Jinn live, they can even take away magic if a Jinn acts out. There’s probably going to be a huge uprising eventually. Predictably.

≫ THE ROMANCE:
LOVE
TRIANGLE
ALERT

I knew this was coming. Even when Azra tells Henry she’d want a brother like him, or whatever. So obvious. I could really have done without their relationship because they made such a good pair of friends! I honestly didn’t feel chemistry between them. What made this whole thing even more annoying is that it serves as an ‘excuse’ for Azra to get even more tetchy about Chelsea carrying around with Henry (even before she realises her feelings for him!), which was downright infuriating. This is why we can’t have good things. And it’s weird that after Azra realises she may have feelings for Henry, and he for her, she doesn’t reflect on those thoughts at all when she’s with Nate. Huh.

Nate was pretty cute, I guess, but my feelings towards him were fairly lukewarm because I always figured it would never work between him and Azra and she’d inevitably get together with Henry and then at least we wouldn’t have a triangle. But nope! We must suffer.

Not to mention, Azra has this weirdly possessive thing about both boys. She gets all worked up about Chelsea stealing Henry away from her, Henry giving Chelsea a nickname he gave her, and refers to him as her Henry. Nate is also her Nate. It just came off as kind of weird.

≫ THE ENDING:
I don’t know why it had to end on a cliffhanger as weird as that. The resolution definitely didn’t feel well-done. The end felt cut off, like one of those ridiculous to-be-continued episodes on a TV show.

≫ TO SUMMARISE:
I’m pretty lukewarm about this book—clearly I had a bit of an expectations vs reality issue here. I can tell you it’s easy to read and the prose flows well, but I think I had far too many problems with it to like it.

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