The White Road of the Moon: 07/29/17
The White Road of the Moon by Rachel Neumeier is a YA fantasy set in a kingdom on a peninsula, blocked at one end by mountains and otherwise surrounded by sea. Imagine if you will, San Francisco and San Mateo counties without the rest of the Bay Area.
At the southern end of things near the ghost town of a once booming city lives Meridy and her aunt. She's about to be sold into a terrible apprenticeship because the aunt is tired to being responsible for her niece for many different reasons, including her ability to do magic and talk to the dead.
Meridy sets out on the road that leads to the northern end of kingdom to find her own fortune in life. Along the way she has many adventures and ends up helping the royal family. At first glance it sounds like a mixture of Lord Valentine's Castle by Robert Silverberg, Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey, and Alanna: The First Adventures by Tamora Pierce. Maybe because of the timing and the seaside village that Merdiy likes to frequent, I was also reminded a bit of Moana — except that it's a quest by land instead of a quest by sea.
But there are problems with this motif heavy book, namely the usage of light and dark, white and black. Witches in this book are the only people who have black eyes, regardless of whether they are good or bad — but to many non-witches in the book, black eyes are things to be afraid of. Second, Meridy spends a lot of her time wishing she were light skinned and normal looking like the people to the north. The repeated white / light = good and dark / black = bad mythos got wearisome quickly
If this book were starting in the north, where perhaps Meridy was an immigrant in a racist society, who decides to leave the town for better things, I would have let her desire to have blond hair and blue eyes a pass. But she's leaving a village where, sure, she's gotten a very good education (somehow despite her running into wealthier people who know little to nothing of the world they are living in) to go to the north where the big cities are. She's purposely going to a place where she will stand out, where it will probably be dangerous for her, because it's a glamorous place — it's the normal place.
Imagine instead that Meridy decides to leave the haunted slums of the north to head to the countryside. Along the way she meets more and more people like herself and realizes that all the self hatred she has is part of her screwed up society. It would be a chance for character and world building, as well as social commentary.