Monthly Archives: May 2015

Book Discussion: When I was the Greatest

When I was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds

Summary:

Ali lives in Brooklyn with his mother and sister. He’s a decent kid and stays off the street. His mom works two jobs and isn’t home17428880 much, but she’s still a strict disciplinarian and Ali fears her wrath. He spends most of his time on the front stoop of the house hanging out with his friends, Noodles and Needles, learning to box in a neighbor’s living room, or hanging out with his little sister. His neighborhood isn’t great, but folks watch out for each other…even when it means jumping into a dangerous situation that you’d much rather avoid.

heart Romance Score: You’re Trying

This is a book with fifteen and sixteen year olds, it’s not about romance as much as it about excitement and enjoying the view. There was a lot of description about how girls looked and about how they were dressed, but not so much about enjoying their personalities or interacting with them as people.

RosieFeminist Score: You’re Trying?

It was hard to place this one since the boys do objectify some (most?) of the girls they interact with, but Ali’s mother, his sister, the upstairs neighbor, and Kim all serve to give examples of strong, kind, smart women surrounding Ali with great examples of ladies. Noodles and Needles’ mom also serves to highlight the situation of women in the neighborhood – she is out a lot and her job is never clearly defined, we’re given enough information to surmise, but not enough to know for certain. Noodles is obviously sensitive about her work, but there’s never any judgment or criticism of the situation, mostly just sympathy.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

The characters here cover a fairly wide range of attributes: different income levels, dis/abilities, family shapes. Skin color in the book is pretty homogenous, but it should be; many readers will feel their own lives reflected in the neighborhood and Ali’s interactions on his block. Needles has Tourette’s Syndrome and it’s woven in and central to the story in a powerful way. His character feels like a side story in the beginning and then it slowly builds momentum. Ali’s dad was in jail for several years, but he is still fairly involved and comes back at somewhat regular intervals to check on Ali and Jazz. The boys’ way of speaking is captured in away that is both recognizable  and accessible.

wow iconAwesome Factor: A+ Success

This is a book about Ali and the people around him. There’s some action, but it unfolds slowly and wraps up fairly quickly. I was drawn in by the characters – I felt like I could walk down Ali’s street and know exactly who he meant when he described each person. I loved the juxtaposition of innocence and teenage bluffing that Ali and Noodles must find their way through. The relationships really made this story what it was.


Favorite Character

Ali because he is not afraid to stand up for what he knows is right, stick to his friends and family, and still do what he needs to while navigating the rules of the neighborhood/street. As a parent obeying, rule follower myself in high school, I appreciate Ali’s struggle to balance what would be fun and what he knows his mom would allow. I admired his strength and his willingness to hold on to the softness within himself.

Honorable mention: Jazz because she’s a good cook, makes up great nicknames, and takes care of her big brother like a little old lady would.

Favorite Line

There were several great lines:

Most of our neighborhood accepted Needles for who he was. No judgment. I mean, it’s New York. A man walking down the street dressed like Cinderella? That’s nothing. A woman with a tattoo of a pistol her face? Who cares. So what’s the big deal about a syndrome? Whatever. It’s in our blood to get over it, especially when you’re one of our own, and by that, I mean, you live on our block. (17)

The first thing we had to figure out was where to get yarn from. It’s funny. When you don’t know nothing about something, you really don’t know where to even begin to find stuff that goes with the thing you don’t know nothing about. (28)

“And I’m only gonna teach you because I know you won’t abuse it, like some of the other kids around here. You love first, and that’s always a good thing. You’re not fighting the war that so many of the other kids are fighting. You’re rebelling against it, like Muhammad Ali. You know who that is?” (51)

Is this worth a book hangover?

I really enjoyed this book and think that it will be absolutely a favorite for some people. It may be a life line, too. It portrays place and people beautifully and really captures Ali’s community. I definitely recommend it! I also love that he’s nicknamed after Muhammad Ali.

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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Book Discussion: Saint Anything

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Summary

Sydney Stanford has grown up in the shadow of her older brother. Peyton has been getting in trouble for years, his infractions growing larger and larger, and eventually, landing him in jail for crippling someone during a drunk-driving accident. With her brother in jail and her mother focused on his comfort and safety, Sydney finds herself alone in her guilt over what her brother did. To make matters worse, her brother’s older, strange friend is always around, and Sydney can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t right about him. Saint Anything is a high school story about family, friendship, consequences, and the importance of listening to your gut.

 

heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I’ll admit that I’m partial to some of the couples in Sarah Dessen’s stories (Wes & Macy, Remy & Dexter). Mac and Sydney’s romance is sweet, but slow. It’s not as large a part of the story as usual Dessen novels, but I appreciated it.

FRosieeminist Score: Between Not a Bit and You’re Trying [Note: SPOILER BELOW]

I’m a huge Sarah Dessen fan, and looked forward to this book for months. I really enjoyed the story plot, and about 90% of the book went exactly as I expected. But… the ending. I just can’t understand the ending of this book. [SPOILER]: I just could not believe that after all of the months of stalking, and everything that happened, Sydney didn’t press charges against Ames.

Sarah Dessen is a YA author who writes about both sweet, fun, summer love stories and serious, hard topics. In many of her books, she tries to weave between both, and is relatively effective. The teens in her novels tend to be a little more passive than I’d like, but overall, they seem to get the justice they deserve (see: Annabelle in Just Listen). In that regard, this book really falls short. I was so disappointed by the lack of action at the end. Thousands of teens rely on Sarah Dessen to help them navigate through tough teenage years. One of the hardest things a person can face is knowing that someone is creepy, but not being able to do anything about it. I wish Sarah had followed through and proven that there is something you can do, but instead, I’ll give my own advice.

If he’s creepy, or lurking, or just seems off, tell an adult. If that adult does not listen, tell another adult. Call the police. File charges, and get him in jail. There is no need to be polite, or good, or sweet, or give him the benefit of the doubt, when your life or body is at stake. 

diversity people circle icon

Diversity Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort 

Sydney, like most of Dessen’s protagonists, is white and wealthy. I don’t believe any of the main characters of the story aren’t white. That being said, I appreciate a story that talks about violence in wealthy, white communities. It’s easy to believe that bad things don’t happen on the nicer side of town. This story highlights that fact well.

wow icon

Awesome Factor: You’re Trying 

I really, really wanted to like this book. I actually did like most of it. But I can’t get over my views about the ending (see: Feminist Score).


Favorite Character

Layla. I loved her obsession with french fries and finding the perfect combination of junk food. I think we could be friends.

Favorite Line

“You get used to people being a certain way; you depend on it. And when they surprise you, for better or worse, it can shake you to the core.”

Is this worth a book hangover?

I really, really wanted to like this book. I’m a huge Sarah Dessen fan, and I love the way she writes. I was absolutely in love with this book until the last 30 pages. I would say it’s worth the read (especially if you’re a Sarah Dessen fan), but be prepared to be a bit disappointed. 

Fun Author Fact

Lakeview, the setting for Saint Anything (and most of Sarah Dessen’s other books), is based in Sarah’s home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Read This Next

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen. This book captures all of the magic of Lakeview in typical Dessen fashion, but with a more satisfying ending.

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: Fangirl

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Summary

Cath and her twin identical sister, Wren, are about to start college together. While Wren is outgoing and excited about her new life, Cath is a little less sure. She likes her old life, most importantly, her online life as an extremely popular fanfiction writer. She doesn’t want to make new friends, and would prefer to live in her dorm room eating peanut butter and completing the final Simon Snow (Harry Potter) book before the real author. But between her outgoing roommate and the strange boy who hangs around her dorm, Cath may be forced out of her comfort zone after all.

Favorite Character

Cath. I empathize with her insecurity and angst about college, and her excitement about her online world.

Favorite Line

“The whole point of fanfiction is that you get to play inside somebody else’s universe. Rewrite the rules. Or bend them. The story doesn’t have to end. You can stay in this world, this world you love, as long as you want, as long as you keep thinking of new stories.”

I had a hard time picking just one quote, but this one is one of the best. Cath (and Rowell) captures the feeling/angst/excitement of reading and writing fanfiction perfectly.

Fun Author Fact

Rainbow Rowell is writing Carry On, the fanfiction that Cath wrote in Fangirl. The book will be published on October 6, 2015. As discussed in the podcast, both of us are very curious about the new publication. Will it be like Harry Potter? Will we see a lot of the story plot seen in Fangirl, or will it be completely new? I’m excited to see where this goes!

Read these next:

If you’re a fan of Rowell’s writing, check out Eleanor and Park. The plot is different – it’s an interracial love story set in the 1980s – but her writing style and character development are excellent.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Both of us liked the book. Anisha think’s it’s a hangover book, and Jess is a little less sure (though she’s glad she read it!).

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: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina


Summary

Piddy (Piedad) lives with her mom and her aunt-by-love, Lila, in a building that is falling apart. She doesn’t know who her dad
is and daydreams about him often. The restrictions her mom puts around her are starting to chafe, but her Saturday shifts with Lila provide enough relief that she can survive…until Piddy and her mom move to a better apartment and Piddy must switch schools. Within a few weeks of the move, Piddy is informed that “Yaqui Delgado wants to kick [her] ass” and Piddy’s life starts to quickly spiral out of control. The bullying escalates to physical violence, but Piddy refuses to tell anyone close to her. At the same time, she reconnects with an old neighbor and sparks fly between them as they search for a little comfort from their respective lives. Piddy’s Cuban and Dominican background come clearly through the food, music, culture, and language that are integrated into the story.

yaqui delgado

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying

Piddy’s relationship with Joey both makes sense and is a little random. He was her neighbor in the old building and she feels a connection to him because he’s also suffering – his dad is an alcoholic that beats his wife – but they feel like a couple by convenience or need rather than from actual affection. I like that she stops before going too far out of her comfort zone and that they find a way to help each other without making giant mistakes.

Rosie Feminist Score: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

There are so many great representations of strong ladies being awesome together. Piddy’s mom is making it on her own and doing everything she can to support her daughter and give her the best. Lila reminds her best friend and Piddy that it’s important to take risks and let your heart live; she’s also the best kind of aunt – who will give you the real information you need about boys, have your back in every situation, and let you vent or share the bad stuff going on without turning on the “mom.” Plus, I love that Piddy’s final choice feels very true to her character while still being strong. I take points away because Piddy’s mom and another lady go at each other instead of realizing that the snake in the situation is the guy.

diversity people circle icon Diversity Score: A+ Success

As mentioned in the summary, Piddy is Cuban and Dominican and the book does a great job of showing that in her story. The music mentioned, the dance moves Lila teaches her, and their usual evening meals are all small details that reflect her Latina life. In addition, we get diversity of income, opportunity, and family units from the other students at Piddy’s new school. There are a lot of Spanish and Spanglish terms thrown into the story – and they’re always italicized and often translated for the reader with repetition. I know this is the way it’s (often) done, but it assumes that the reader is unfamiliar with these terms which seems odd in a book about a Latina character by a Latina writer.

wow icon Awesome Factor: Good Effort

I really liked Piedad’s story, her family, and the representation of both a poor and Latina family. I think Piddy’s story is important to share so we have more perspectives like hers. I did feel like some of the side characters were a little flat and, while it’s realistic that Piddy would know so little about Yaqui, I still wish we had a little more of her perspective to help the reader understand why Yaqui behaves the way she does. Though Lila’s explanation helps the reader, it’s also pretty unsympathetic to Yaqui – and she’s the kind of girl that could probably use a little more compassion than we think she deserves.


Favorite Character

Lila – she’s supportive, strong, and brave. She balances out Piddy’s mom and gives the advice you need not the advice you want. She’s fun, she’s beautiful, she’s confident, and she teaches Piddy how to revel in her womanhood while also being responsible.

Favorite Line

Sorry guys, I read this on the metro and forgot to write it down! I’d rather leave this blank than go through and just pick something random.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I read this quickly and enjoyed Piddy’s story – I’d recommend it, but not sure a hangover is necessary.

Read This Next

This Side of Home by Renee Watson offers a Black American perspective on high school. I’ll be reviewing When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds soon.

Post Author

1202112022

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: Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

Summary

Leila feels like an outsider. She is the only Iranian-American at her ultra-rich, preppy private high school. She is also attracted to women, but is worried that her conservative immigrant family and her high school friends would not accept her. One day, a beautiful, wild new girl named Saskia joins the class. Saskia is full of adventure and fun – and Leila quickly falls head over heels for her.

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

I loved this novel for how high school it is. Leila has a normal school-girl crush on the popular, wild new kid, who just happens to be a girl. I related very well to her feelings, and loved reliving the ups and downs of high school. I wish I had seen a little more of the romance towards the end of the book. Perhaps a sequel?

FRosieeminist Score: You’re Trying and Good Effort  

Leila is still in high school, and not battling big cultural change or fighting rebellions. I liked this book a lot, but I don’t see it being a game-changer on the feminist front. That being said, check out the diversity score.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success  

This story matters. We need more stories that tell new perspectives from a fresh point of view. They help us process our world and find comfort in other characters/people like us. Leila is a gay, American-Iranian high school student with her first real schoolgirl crush. I know there are gay high school students out there who need a story like this. And while there are many great resources for coming out to your parents, the challenges of immigrant parents may be slightly different. This book is inspiring, and I hope it finds its way into the hands of those who need Leila. [Note from Jess- I’ve seen on the interwebs that the following may come up in the book: an unwanted outing of a character, assault, and biphobia]

wow icon Awesome Factor: Good Effort 

Leila’s story, especially the parts with her family, are sweet and well-written. The book is a fast read, but a good one.


Favorite Character

Leila. She’s sweet and confused and so concerned with her family. I just want to give her a hug.

Favorite Line

“Act cool. Just act cool and don’t let on that you think she is gorgeous”

I love how hard Leila tries to hide her crush and how bad she is at it. As someone who has the same problem, I can relate.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes. The story is a fun, quick read with a new perspective. It tackles first crushes in a high-school appropriate way and is definitely worth the read.  

Fun Author Fact

This story may be semi-autobiographical. According to her website, Sara too was a closeted Iranian-American at a rich prep school. I wonder if her Saskia ever found out about her crush.

Read This Next

Forever by Judy Blume. It’s the story of first love. And while it was written in the 1970s, it’s still very easy to relate to it.

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: The Way We Bared Our Souls


The Way We Bared Our Souls by Willa Strayhorn

Summary

Lo recently started dealing with severe pain and symptoms that are probably MS. She tries to ignore the symptoms until she https://i2.wp.com/d.gr-assets.com/books/1404960375l/22529157.jpgmeets a mysterious Native dude that offers to do a ritual with her and 4 other people to “remove her burdens.” Immediately, Lo latches on to this mysterious, magical solution and rounds up 4 acquaintances to participate with her. Thomas is a Liberian ex-child soldier, Ellen is a drug addict, Kaya has a medical condition that prevents her from feeling pain, and Kit is depressed and dealing with his girlfriend’s sudden death. The ritual happens and the teens find their pains/burdens switched. We then get to watch as they spend a week dealing with new burdens and “healing.” Except…not everyone finds relief.

NOTE:

This is probably the most difficult podcast we’ve done so far. We don’t normally go into each category for podcast reviews, but this book needs it. Also, I have a feeling we (I) made a couple of missteps in our discussions of the Native characters – we’re (I’m) learning and, in the review, you’ll find a couple of corrections. Also, with more distance from the book, my opinion has shifted more strongly to one end of the spectrum, so be sure to read the full review.


heartRomance Score:  Sort of Trying, but closer to Not a Bit

You sort of want to cheer for Lo and Thomas because she defies her friends to admit her feelings about him, except that it kind of feels like she’s into him only because he’s mysterious and has a story. It feels sort of like a fetish-crush.

RosieFeminism Score: You’re Trying

This score is solely because of Lo’s aunt living her life however she wanted. But, she’s a side character and Lo is the one that uses her friends, lies to them, and steps on old acquaintances to get what she wants.

diversity people circle icon Diversity Score: Not a Bit

For a book with a Liberian and a Native American in the core group of characters, you would think this should get a winning score. NO. A thousand times no. It doesn’t feel like the author did much research or, if she did, it was cursory and probably did not actually involve materials from ex-child soldiers or current day Natives. In the podcast, I talk positively about the fact that the genocidal history of settler-Native relations forms a core part of Kaya’s story. I appreciated this only because this part of history is so often swept under the rug. With more thought (and conversation with a very helpful, bright lady), I realized this isn’t the kind of narrative we should be applauding. And, the book doesn’t even handle it well. It could easily have been mentioned as a true part of the story, but focusing solely on this does a disservice and actual harm to any Native readers of this book. Instead of giving us a well-rounded, fresh representation of a contemporary Native teenager, we’re given another rehash of violence against Natives. Is there no other narrative (besides colonial-era befriending) for Natives in books? I do appreciate the acknowledgement of this part of history, but I think it could have informed Kaya’s character and experience in the book without being explicit – just like books about contemporary Jewish teens implicitly acknowledge the Holocaust without ever having to mention it (or, we hope they do!).
wow iconAwesome Factor: Not a Bit

This was difficult for us. We don’t want to poop on anyone’s hard work, but when you don’t actually do the work and give readers damaging representations then we feel okay pointing it out.

Favorite Character

None. Lo is too selfish and we don’t get enough information about the other characters to actually like them.

Favorite Line

“In bed that night I touched my body. I wondered if I could still feel true pleasure. Or true happiness, because without knowing the opposite sensation, I was no longer sure. The positive and negative felt like two sides of a coin, and lacking one or the other, I was broke, penniless, with nothing left to wish on.”

Because we needed a reminder about poorly done representation to appreciate the fantastic ones we’ve been reading.

Fact

We recommend you check out this review from American Indian’s in Children’s Literature. The reviewer, Debbie Reese, is way more qualified than we are to talk about the severe issues with this book.

Is this worth a book hangover?

No, we cannot in good conscience recommend this. I have a terrible habit of reacting to negativity with defense even if I agree with the criticisms, and you can hear that in the podcast. I mention that I would suggest this as a book only within a critical discussion of the problems, but I take it back. Anisha was right – don’t read this.

Read These Instead

Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac or The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

Post Author: Jess

1202112022

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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