Judge by the Cover

High School, Drama & Deadly Vices - Hafu Sans Halo Book 1

Young Adult - Coming of Age
44 Pages
Reviewed on 11/02/2017
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Author Biography

Melissa Abigail was born in the southern U.S.A. to South American parents, lived in the borough of Brooklyn, N.Y., and was raised in the suburbs of southern Ontario. A citizen of the world, she’s managed to fit in nowhere in particular but everywhere at the same time. A lifelong writer, creator and artist, she embraces thought-provoking ideas and diversity in film, fiction & life.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Christian Sia for Readers' Favorite

Judge by the Cover: High School, Drama & Deadly Vices is the first book in the Hafu Sans Halo series by Melissa Abigail, a story that transports the reader into the complex worlds and relationships between high school characters. Haruna Mitsukai has great dreams, an overachiever who wants nothing more than to attend the University of British Columbia. Ryu Debiru feels out of place in his own world. Both teenagers attend the Shady Glenn Academy and they detest each other, despite the fact that they have similar personalities. But they are compelled to work together on an assignment on Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. As the tension grows between the two, a startling revelation about an old mansion on the East Side wakes Haruna up and she begins to question who Ryu really is. Could their destinies be linked and how?

This mesmerizing story took me by surprise as I felt drawn in by the confident, crisp writing. The author wastes no time in introducing the reader to the complex world of the key characters, constructing elements of the conflict deftly, and right from the very start of the tale. The characters are sophisticated and memorable and developed to reflect the psychology of their age. The story is well-paced with emotionally charged scenes throughout the narrative, great dialogues, and a vivid setting. The plot has many surprises for readers and they will love Melissa Abigail’s gift for sustaining their curiosity and keeping their eyes on the pages until the satisfying end. Judge by the Cover: High School, Drama & Deadly Vices is an excellent opening for a series, well written and highly entertaining.

Jack Magnus

Judge by the Cover: High School, Drama & Deadly Vices - Hafu Sans Halo, Book 1 is a young adult coming of age novel written by Melissa Abigail. Haruna Mitsukai had her life and future pretty much on track. She was the Head Girl at Shady Glenn Academy, the prestigious preparatory academy she attended, and her marks were more than sufficient to win her a full scholarship to the university of her choice. Her boyfriend, Mani, was gorgeous and came from one of the elite families in the area; one of the only reasons why her strict grandmother allowed their budding romance. Haruna rarely got to see him, however; mostly it was during their Church work on Friday afternoon and on the weekends. During the week, her life was filled with school and homework, followed by her music practice and the never ending chores her grandmother seemed to delight in assigning her. Haruna’s first reaction to Mr. Lee’s announcement that a group project would take the place of their final English exam was outrage -- she enjoyed taking tests and knew she could study hard enough to get perfect grades, but a group project meant relying upon others. When she was paired off with Ryu, the bad boy of her class, she became infuriated, which neither impressed her teacher nor convinced him to change his mind. Somehow she and Ryu would have to find a way to get past their mutual loathing and make this project work.

Melissa Abigail’s coming of age novel, Judge by the Cover, is a beautifully written and compelling novel about the stresses students find themselves under as they are coming of age. Haruna and Ryu are marvelous main characters whose opposite qualities hide a deeper fellowship than either of them are able to perceive. Bullying, peer pressure and racism are all deftly handled by the author as each of her two combatants learn to accept the different outlooks of the other and appreciate how working together can create something better than they could achieve separately. It’s especially interesting to see how the preconceptions each has of the other turn out to be so far off base as they find learning to work as a team enables them to also learn about themselves. The plot is solid and well-constructed, and the characters are genuine and real. Judge by the Cover: High School, Drama & Deadly Vices - Hafu Sans Halo, Book 1 is most highly recommended.

Caitlin Lyle Farley

Haruna and Ryu both attend the prestigious Shady Glen Academy and they’re both half-Japanese, but that’s where the similarities end. Haruna is a hard working student driven to excel in everything she does, whether it’s playing the piano for her church’s youth performance or completing her chores. Haruna does everything with a smile on her face, until her English teacher teams her up with Ryu for an important mid-term assignment. It doesn’t take two minutes for Haruna and Ryu to start fighting. Ryu is abrasive, direct, and has no qualms about confronting Haruna for being a domineering perfectionist. While Haruna’s chief concern is getting an A for this project, Ryu has responsibilities to fulfil that could mean his death.

Judge by the Cover seems like an uncomplicated story at first, but Melissa Abigail soon leads the reader into a tangle of rivalries, danger, and impossible expectations. Haruna’s insulated upbringing introduces a compelling narrative on racism and provides a contrast to the violent realities of Ryu’s life. These two characters may mirror each other on the surface, but beneath that they are opposites. This highlights the misconceptions that so often underpin the view of bigots; that what they view as ‘the other’ are all alike. Although the occasional timeline switches in Judge by the Cover do augment the plot with relevant information, I found them a little frustrating. I also wish there had been a better balance between Ryu's and Haruna’s narratives. Author Melissa Abigail does intersperse Japanese throughout the book, but the meanings of these words and phrases is strongly implied. Judge by the Cover has a strong focus on character development, and while I do love a novel that examines society and the inner workings of individuals, there were times when the plot felt a little light.