Monthly Archives: April 2015

Book Discussion: Girls Like Us

Girls Like Us by Gail Giles

Summary18404410

Biddy and Quincy have just graduated from high school – out of their Special Education program and into the real world. Through their transition program, they receive an apartment and job placements. As they settle into their new life, they rub each other’s hard edges down and provide support as each learns to overcome their past hurts and traumas to find a full life. Both girls deal with some heavy stuff, but they end their story with hope.


heart

Romance Score: Absolutely NOT

This book is not about the warm tingleys of young love. In no way. In fact, trigger warning for abuse and sexual violence.

RosieFeminist Score: A+ Success

This book gets its feminist credits for a couple of reasons. Biddy and Quincy are out in the world, making it on their own with the resources supporting them and they fight back against the (lack of) expectations their families set for them. Not only that, but after some seriously awful things happen, both girls realize that being a “speddie” shouldn’t preclude them from respect and dignity.

diversity people circle icon  Diversity Score: A+ Success

This book features two narrators, both recent graduates of a high school special education program. That alone makes it a stand out in YA. Then, there’s the fact that Quincy has been through the foster care system and is mixed-race, also not super common. Then, in addition, we have them talking about life as young adults with learning disabilities/special needs – a perspective that is rarely (ever?!) seen. Social class issues are also brought into the story, though not directly highlighted. There is a great moment between the girls and Elizabeth, the older woman that Biddy helps care for, that highlights the difficult line between friend and ‘the help,’ as well as the patronizing attitude of people that try to “help” when they think they know what is best for someone.

Awesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effortwow icon

While I found a lot to value in the story and the narrators, I found a couple of things really difficult. The book was written in vernacular – super southern, Texas drawl. I think vernacular is really hard to pull off at ALL times, but since this book is about two girls just leaving special education, it felt like a disservice to their story. It was extremely difficult to tell in the beginning if the vernacular was regional or an extremely offensive attempt to show their “speddie” status. In the authors note, Giles says she wanted to give a voice to the students she had worked with for many years – but the voice she gave doesn’t sound like most of the other characters found in YA books and serves to separate the girls from their YA peers. It was also difficult to determine which girl was narrating at times, as their voices were not easy to distinguish (maybe because of the vernacular?). Even so, I’m glad to have read Quincy and Biddy’s stories and to have more representation in books.


Favorite Character

I’m not sure I really have one. The book is so quick and the girls melding at times into one another, it’s hard to choose.

Favorite Line

I didn’t find the writing style especially arresting. There are a few passages from Biddy that cut through to the simple beauty of life, but nothing spectacular stuck out.

Is this book worth a hangover?

I don’t think you’ll get one, but you may end up with puffy eyes from crying at the serious injustice that Biddy and Quincy – and by extension, real girls like them –  suffer through.

Read This Next

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco K Stork.

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Discussion: I Was Here

I Was Here by Gayle Forman18879761

Summary

Cody and Meg were best friends throughout their childhood. They dreamed of leaving their small, boring town and moving to Seattle together. But once high school ends, Meg is able to leave for college, and Cody is stuck left behind. But one day, the unthinkable happens: Meg commits suicide, and Cody is left with the responsibility of gathering her personal items. Cody is determined to figure out how and why Meg died.

I was here 3

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying 

Because of the relationship between the three main characters, one of whom is a dead best friend, I really couldn’t get into this romance. I just think it goes against friend-code, but I don’t want to give away too many details.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort 

Cody’s a strong, interesting character who wants to figure out why (and how) her best friend killed herself. I liked her determination to find answers, even in hard places.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort 

One thing I really, really liked about this story was that Meg and Cody were not wealthy. Everything was a struggle for them – from paying off a laptop to getting a bus ticket to the new town. I appreciated that level of diversity – and think it’s one that is often skipped.

wow icon Awesome Factor: You’re Trying and Good Effort

This book tackles a hard topic with grace. You rarely get the perspective of a suicide from a friend’s point of view, and the devastation that it causes on a family and friends. On the other hand, there were definitely some relationships that I couldn’t condone, and that lowered my overall score.


Favorite Character

Scottie (Meg’s little brother). I liked the perspective of a younger child effected by his sister’s death.

Favorite Line

“Amazing Grace. How Vile the Sound.”

I’ve always thought that music at funerals, especially if you’ve been to a lot of them, must be really sickening. This line captured that thought perfectly.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Honestly? I think it would be for some people, but I just couldn’t get very into it. I love one of Gayle Forman’s other books, If I Stay, mostly because of the main character. I would recommend that book as “hangover worthy”, but not I Was Here .

Fun Author Fact

According to her website, Gayle Forman bombed the SATs, but is still a world-famous author (with a movie adaption!)

Read This Next

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga. This book also tackles suicide (and the influence of anonymous online forums), with an interesting romance and suicide pact. I also recommend The Pact by Jodi Picoult, though it’s not a YA book.

Post Author: Anisha

AnishaAnisha adores YA romance – and thinks that all love stories should start on the beach and end with the first kiss. Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors

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Book Chat: My Heart and Other Black Holes

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga My Heart

Summary

Aysel is certain about one thing: she is ready to die. She just needs to decide how. While looking through online forums, she finds FrozenRobot, another teen looking for a suicide partner. FrozenRobot is perfect – he’s local, her age, and ready to kill himself. But as Aysel and FrozenRobot start to spend time together, she starts to see another side of him. Suddenly, she’s not sure she’s making the right decision.

Black Holes 2

Note: While the romance score is not quite swoon worthy, the characters are fantastic companions for each other. Their friendship is an important part of the story, and one of our favorite parts.


Favorite Character

Aysel. Her dark humor and passion for physics is very … energetic (insert groan).

Favorite Line

“Depression is like a heaviness that you can’t ever escape. It crushes down on you, making even the smallest things like tying your shoes or chewing on toast seem like a twenty-mile hike uphill. Depression is a part of you; it’s in your bones and your blood.”

Aysel’s many descriptions of depression are beautiful and sad.

Fun Author Fact

Jasmine Warga recently spoke at the Nova Teen Book Festival in Arlington, VA. Jess was lucky enough to hear her inspiring talk!

Read these next:

This Side of Home by Renee Watson. This is not a book about depression, but is another beautifully written piece about something  you may be less familiar with: gentrification.

Is this worth a book hangover?

100% Don’t walk – RUN to your nearest bookstore and buy this beautiful piece of literature. 

Post Author: Anisha AnishaAnisha adores YA romance – and thinks that all love stories should start on the beach and end with the first kiss. Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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Book Discussion: Origin

Origin by Jessica Khoury

Summary13455112

Pia grew up in a glass house fenced off from the rainforest in the middle of nowhere. Her “aunts” and “uncles” have always told her she was perfect – and it wasn’t just the sweet compliments of family. Pia is the result of a generations-long scientific experiment leading to immortality; she is perfect. But, she is still a teenager and the mix of teenage identity crisis and hints of secrets kept from lead her to start questioning everything she’s been told by the scientists around her. As she rebels against the rules and restrictions hemming her in, she learns more about her origins than she ever imagined.

heartRomance Score: Somewhere between You’re Trying and Good Effort

One night Pia decides she’s tired of following the rules and she sneaks out of the fence. She just happens to run into Eio, a very attractive native boy. Their relationship escalates quickly, which felt a little too like insta-love for me, but also feels totally true to Pia seeing as he’s the first new person even close to her age that she’s ever met. I also felt a little uncomfortable with the “perfect white girl” falling for the “wise native boy” theme, but since Eio and several other villagers are fairly well rounded, it didn’t fall totally into the trope realm.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

Pia is smart, strong, and brave – and not just because she’s immortal. She doesn’t let warnings or rules keep her from questioning what she is told to do and, even though it may mean sacrificing her dream, she follows her moral compass. Two negative points for this category: Pia’s extra jealous reaction to Dr. Fields and Pia’s mom – although knowing how they both were raised, these aren’t so unexpected.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: You’re Trying

Pia is white and perfect. Just that makes it hard for me to give bonus points, even though it may not be fair since that, unfortunately, is probably what most people would describe if you asked. But, more than that, it was the native storyline and how it played out for me, it just seemed a little too easy and perfect – the native medicine man had all the answers just waiting in his native legends for the perfect white girl to come along and save them from the bad white scientists. But, a couple of the Ai’oan characters were well developed, so it didn’t fall too far…I think. Maybe.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

Overall, I liked Pia and reading along as she started to question everything she thought was true. I thought the juxtaposition of Wild vs Normal Pia was a great way to describe the warring parts of her identity; she read very much like a socially isolated, mentally gifted 17 year old – both awkward and appealing at times. I also think the questions raised about science and how far we should go to achieve goals are especially pertinent as science continues to push forward.


Favorite Character

Uncle Antonio because he follows his heart on more than one occasion and has always been a balancing force against the scientific single mindedness the others around Pia have been exerting all her life. I wish he had been developed a little more, but appreciate the small glimpse we did get of his back story.

Favorite Line

Khoury does a great job switching between poetic descriptions of the world around Pia and her analytical, scientific mind.

“Most of all – and this is what I missed most during my nighttime wanderings – is the color. The rainforest is green on green; the color must have been invented here, and in a thousand different forms. Against the green wash, a shot of purple orchids or orange mushrooms stands out vibrantly demanding attention…

Despite all the beauty around me, my eyes keep wandering back to Eio. He pushes every branch out of my path, careful not to let them swing back and hit me.”

Is this worth a book hangover?

Once you get into the action, the book is easy to fall into and the pages keep turning. I wanted to know what Pia ended up doing and the mystery of elysia and immortality kept me reading for the answers. In some ways, this definitely feels like a first book because of pacing and heavy-handedness with the “message,” but overall it was a fun, interesting read.

Fun Author Fact

Jessica Khoury’s first book was fanfiction at the age of 4, she has Scottish and Syrian heritage, but grew up in Georgia (USA).

Read This Next

Control by Lydia Kang or Tankborn by Karen Sandler

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Discussion: How It Went Down

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon imgres

Summary

The real world doesn’t have an all-knowing narrator who knows the answers to everything… and neither does this book. How It Went Down is the story of a black teenager shot by a white man. Who’s at fault? Was the black kid in a gang? Was the white man a racist asshole? Good question. No one knows for sure.How It Went Down 2

heartRomance Score: N/A

The story doesn’t focus on romance, so I’ve chosen to skip this category.

RosieFeminist Score: Not a Bit to You’re Trying 

I’m struggling with how to grade this. I don’t think there were many strong female characters in the book. One of them is taken in by a married man, and the other is in an abusive relationship. That being said, the characters seemed very real to me, and I empathized heavily with both, especially Kimberly.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success 

As you can imagine, this book focused heavily on issues of race and the division of a community during a crisis. The book did a great job focusing on hard topics of race, including the assumptions that we make about one another.

wow icon Awesome Factor: Good Effort 

Given the events of the last few years, this is a must-read for anyone who thinks they “know” what happened in a shooting. This book demonstrates the confusion, hurt, tension, and violence that one event can have in a community. I highly recommend this book.


Favorite Character

Tyrell. He worked so hard to achieve his goals, but had unimaginable roadblocks along the way.

Favorite Line

The two newspaper headlines from Pg 134 struck me:

“Mom: ‘Tariq deserves justice ‘ – Slain teen’s family protests alleged shooter’s release”

“Police Chief: ‘Self-Defense a Protected Right”

Sound familiar to anyone?

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes. This is not a fun, light read, but it’s an important one. Anyone who thinks they fully understand the complexity of race relations, violence and the police in the modern era should read this book. 

Fun Author Fact

According to her website, Kekla Magoon used to be a Girl Scout recruiter. And despite what she claims, that job does sound a little sinister.

Read This Next

This Side of Home by Renee Watson.

Post Author: Anisha

AnishaAnisha adores YA romance – and thinks that all love stories should start on the beach and end with the first kiss. Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.  

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Book Chat: This Side of Home

This Side of Home by Renee Watson

Summary

Nikki and Maya are twin sisters that have always done things together. But, as they enter their senior year of high school, things start to change – within their community, their school, and their friendships. The book takes us through Maya’s experiences of the gentrification of her hometown, making friends with the new boy next door, and college application stress. It’s a high school story with romance and difficult friendships and identity confusion. But, it is SO MUCH MORE.


Note
We pulled dictionary definitions for microaggression and racism, neither of us are scholars and we know our explanation lacks nuance (and, possibly, accuracy). We’re digging deeper to make sure we represent these issues accurately in the future.

Favorite Character
Charles – He’s kind of a side character, but he’s so earnest and making such an effort that I was cheering for him every step of the way. I loved that he owned his idiosyncrasies and that everyone rallied behind him. (Tony gets an nomination here, too, because he also is trying very hard to understand and do what is right while being true to his own feelings.)
Favorite Line
I wish I could write half the book here. But, these will do:
“She needs someone to listen to her yesterdays.”
“Sometimes I am barely a flame. Sometimes I’m a coward.”
“I wonder why Principal Green told us what we might not be instead of telling us the possibility of what good we could become.”

Also, chapters 28, 60, and 78 in their entireties. Amazing.
Fun Author Fact
Renee Watson has published children’s, middle grade, and YA books! In the second grade, she wrote a 21 page book for school and then she knew where her life would lead.
Read These Next
The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi for another teenage relationship with serious political themes or How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon about the fall out from a neighborhood shooting (and which Anisha will be reviewing soon).
Is this worth a book hangover?
ABSOLUTELY. We both fell in love with this book because it’s an honest portrayal of the identity crisis of high school and the looming stress of college applications while seamlessly including a story of gentrification, racial tension, and stereotypes. We plan to recommend this to a lot of people – as a perfect example of beautiful writing and fantastic YA literature. Additionally, there are lots of things in this book we just didn’t get to – allies, representations of marriage, the role of community among the underprivileged, Essence’s life experience – and that makes this book even better because there is SO MUCH to unpack.
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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Getting Personal: Why Jess & Anisha Read Diverse Books

As our last post points out, there are many reasons related to society, culture, and representation for supporting diverseIMG_2083
books. These are important overarching reasons to read diverse literature, and we believe in all of them.

But, like most readers, we also have our personal reasons. As avid readers, we both lived in a world of books before we ever knew or cared about the larger implications of what we read. Even after we started The Bookmark, our views have been adjusting. We started by reviewing mainstream literature, and quickly realized that our passions are more closely linked to supporting diverse literature. Why? Check out our reasons below.

Jess and I come from very different backgrounds, so our reasons for supporting diverse literature are different. Here are just four of them:

Anisha’s Reasons – A perspective from a brown American girl

  1. Being American does not mean being white.

When I was in middle school and high school, I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain my family and background. I could say “I’m Indian” – but that didn’t really cover it. I didn’t feel Indian – I was born in the US, spoke only English, and had only visited India twice (less than some of my friends had been on vacation to Europe). I had a very “Western” childhood, with sleepovers, make-up, and dating. But I didn’t feel like my experience was normal, and the only way I could explain it was to say “I’m basically white”.  I didn’t think the American experience was anything but the white one. I was having a white childhood, in an Indian girl’s body.

You can chalk that up to immaturity, but I think it’s more systemic than that. None of the movies or books I read represented my experience. Mainstream literature tell us that “normal” girls are white, rich, and thin (even when they think they’re fat). And while I wasn’t actively seeking out diverse literature or movies,  I should not have had to. Mainstream books should reflect the experiences of all of their readers, and show us that being “American” can mean a lot of different experiences.

 

  1. One “diverse” book should not have to be the magic bullet

Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier was the first diverse book I read. The book is fantastic – well crafted, great story plot, and with an Indian-American girl trying to find her identity in high school. In many ways, it was perfect.

Except – and this took me a long time to admit – it wasn’t my Indian-American story.  And as the only Indian-American book I could find at the time, I felt it was the only story I was “allowed” to relate to, and the fact that I could not made me realize that only having one story for thousands of Desi girls was wrong.. Just as Sarah Dessen can’t write for every white girl, Tanuja Desai Hidier can’t write for every Indian-American girl.  I, and every Indian girl, should have hundreds of narrators of Indian origin to choose from. And then I can find my own story from these girls.

Note: Jessica Pryde wrote an excellent piece about this topic at Book Riot. I highly encourage you to check it out.

  

Jess’s Reasons – A perspective from the cultural hegemony or a white, cis, hetero girl  

  1. Books are doors into other’s lives

Books are a way to dip into the lives of other people, experience a life different from my own, and internalize a little piece of what it would be like to be someone else. Sometimes that means I’m a dragon-flying space colonist jumping through time, other times it means I’m a princess trying to fight a strategic political marriage. A few weeks ago, it meant that I was a high school student working through the gentrification and racial shift in the neighborhood I grew up in. Diverse books are important to me because they provide more chances to expand the types of experiences I’m able to have within my one, single life. When we read books, we become the characters and that makes it just a tiny bit easier to understand what kind of experiences, thoughts, and dreams the people around us have. Diverse books are an integral part to expanding the kinds of people readers are able to become.

  1. Our stories reflect our individual truths.

But, diverse books should not exist to help the majority population “feel what it’s like to be someone different.” Since I grew up as a white kid in the US I could usually find someone that looked like me in books. True, she might end up the girl that needs saving most of the time, but at least most of the stories and characters were easy for me to relate to. Those girls still looked and felt like me. I care about supporting diverse books because I think everyone should have the same chance I did and do. Every reader should have the same joy of finding a story that speaks to their soul and that features characters and stories that look like them and lead lives like theirs. Often diverse books are called “window books” because they let the majority (white, cis, hetero, able, nominally Christian) population peek into what those “other” lives are like. But, I think that’s wrong. These books aren’t and shouldn’t be (only) about that. They are about individual truths; there are millions of different people and stories and each and every one stands on its own terms.

What are YOUR reasons for supporting diverse books? Are you part of the “norm”? What has mainstream literature gotten wrong about you? Leave a comment or tweet at us @Bookmark_Place.

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Book Discussion: Lies We Tell Ourselves

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Summary

It’s finally time to integrate the all-white Jefferson High School in Virginia. Sarah is one of the first 10 black students to enroll. We experience the process of integration through her eyes, feeling the screaming insults, the racist chants, and the awful physical assaults that she, her younger sister, and other students endure. The daughter of a very vocal anti-integrationist, Linda, just happens to be in Sarah’s classes and they end up grouped on a school project. As their work progresses, their understanding of each other grows and feelings both girls never expected begin to bubble to the surface. We get a story of inner strength, personal belief, and inordinate courage in the face of racism, family, and abuse.

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

The electricity in this book is fitting for the type of relationships that develop – curiosity, confusion, and shame serve to make things realistic and to keep the heat from erupting. Even so, the few kisses and moments of openness are crucial and I wanted to cheer both girls when they let themselves feel.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

There are a lot of moments to cheer for these girls and for the steel backbones they find when dealing with some seriously wrong behavior. I appreciate the different pictures of strength and choice the women in the book exhibit. They may be in high school, but both Sarah and Linda have already started chartering their own paths through life regardless of what family and society says and that is what feminism is all about.  I didn’t like the comments about “that kind of girl,” but they totally fit the time period of the story.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

The book is about integrating a high school in the South. That’s already pretty intense. There are also some social/economic class comments, but the main focus is on race. I appreciate that a lot of the comments and Sarah’s arguments with Linda are still (unfortunately) relevant for today. Some people may find the hater-oppressed falling in love a bit cliché, but the storytelling makes up for any staleness.  And, oh yea, there’s the little fact that a white girl and a black girl find themselves dealing with strong, confusing emotions about one another.

EDIT: This review is from a white perspective. Some Black readers in the community have stated that this book is clearly written with white readers in mind and that a lot of what happens to Sarah is harmful and hurtful to Black readers (obviously it is also hurtful to Sarah, but there’s a way to show history in a way that is compassionate toward current readers). So, as we always try to be better as readers/bloggers, I wanted to point this out.

wow icon Awesome Factor: A+ Success

This book is amazing. It may be about a time 50 years gone, but it is still SO RELEVANT. Sarah and Linda bring a human touch to two very tough positions – one fighting for her humanity against blind hate and the other struggling to reconcile the ideas she grew up with and the truth in front of her. While it could have been bogged down in the politics and history, instead we got a seriously emotional, deep story about two very different girls finding their way along a confusing path. Sarah’s strength, brilliance, and beauty and Linda’s willingness to reevaluate her opinions and life choices are something we all should aspire to.


Favorite Character

I love both main characters, but I think Ruth, Sarah’s little sister, takes the cake. She’s outspoken, determined, and courageous. Plus, while dealing with the stress of integration, she also has a hovering older sister that just will not back off and she deals with it all in the most teenagerly perfect way.

Favorite Line

This book has a ton of great lines, but Sarah’s Mama has a moment that is just too relevant for today to miss:

“Now you listen and you listen good…Nobody’s going to let us be anything. We have just as much right to this world as they have, and we are not going to wait around for them to give us permission. If we have to prove it to them, we will, but I don’t ever want to hear you talk that way again.”

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely. I read this in one day because it pulled me in and didn’t let go until Ruth gave me the final word. The story is compelling and the characters are honest and well crafted.

Fun Author Fact

Robin Talley was at the NOVA Teen Book Festival and she talked about the importance of true-to-character book covers. It was important to her that Lies We Tell Ourselves wasn’t white-washed – and she got inspiration for the cover from real archived year books!

Read This Next

Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan or Like No Other by Una LaMarche

Post Author

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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