Tag Archives: African-American

Piecing Me Together

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

Summary30038963

(It’s been a while, but HAD to come out of hibernation for Watson’s new book!)

Jade knows that she must use every chance she gets if she wants more for her life, and her mother agrees. So when Jade receives scholarship to a mostly-white prep school, she takes it, along with all the other “help” the school offers. But programs that are supposed to “lift” Jade only seem to make her feel worse about her situation.

She’s given a spot in a mentoring program and learns to find her voice as she pushes against the school and program’s expectations and assumptions.

The book is available February 14 – buy yourself a Valentine’s Day gift!


heart Romance Score: A+ (or Not Applicable)

This book isn’t about romance. Jade is a dedicated student focused on her success – and she knows that it will take all of her attention, so a love interest is not something she looks for. I loved this because it’s an important perspective and one that we don’t see often enough – especially since Jade isn’t ANTI- relationships/love, she’s just focused on something else.

RosieFeminism Score: A+

Jade is an artistic young person and she is surrounded by women that support her, cry with her, and push her. There’s a variety of women in this book and they are all doing different things while being shining examples of how to be your ever-learning, ever-changing self. Jade’s female friendships are strong, special, and allowed to be difficult. Jade’s relationship with Sam highlighted the difficulties that arise in inter-racial interactions and highlight that friendships aren’t always easy and take work. Plus, ALL the female characters are open and honest about their vulnerabilities and the places where they need to learn and be better.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+

This is an #ownvoices book by a Black woman about a Black girl growing up in a poor neighborhood while having to make her way in a mostly-white world. Jade’s world is full of Black Americans making their way through life and the book centers discussions of privilege based in race and wealth. I really feel like this is a book for Black teens (as a white reader, I still LOVED it, but I’m not necessarily the intended audience and that’s ok). Even so, Sam’s character will help white readers unpack their privilege while doing a good job of showing the kind of uncomfortable conversations that true friends need to have to explore identity, privilege, and American systems of oppression (and, while that sounds really heavy, Watson does it with a light touch!).

If you’re looking for other intersections (LGBTQ, disability, neurodiversity, etc) you won’t find much, if anything, here. Even so, because Jade explores, questions, and discusses the systems that affect her and her friends so deeply, I still think this deserves a high score.

wow iconAwesome Factor: A+

Watson writes lyrically, creates characters that I want to know in real life, and deftly deals with hard topics. I loved getting to know Jade and the people around her and cheered when she found her voice and stood up for what she needed and wanted. The determination, love, friendship, community activism, and art that makes up this story is why I have faith in the world getting better (eventually, even if it’s after 10 steps back).


Favorite Character: Jade

This is Jade’s book and she is amazing. An artist that sees how to create beauty from the pieces around her, she is determined to be HERSELF regardless of what other people expect or want her to be.

Favorite Line

The whole book. Watson is a beautiful writer. Always.

Fun Author Fact

Watson created the I, Too Arts Collective, a community arts nonprofit in Harlem based in the house where Langston Hughes lived. The organization is doing some very cool stuff.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely. Always. Watson creates characters and stories that draw you in and then keep you close until the very end. She weaves words into art while also taking the reader through the difficult journeys of her characters. Plus, because she doesn’t shy away from difficult current events and issues, her books provide a safe place for dealing with your own feelings – and the endings always push you to do something in the real world.

Read These Next

Always, always recommend This Side of Home, also by Watson. All American Boys by Reynolds and Kiely for more directly dealing with current events. Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee for a historical look at how a Chinese-American girl pushes toward success.

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Post Author: Jess
I received a free ARC from the publisher for an honest review. I would have read this anyway because Watson is an amazing author.
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Book Discussion: Love is the Drug

Love

Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Summary

Bird’s on the path to the life her mother’s always dreamed for her. She’s got perfect grades, the perfect boyfriend, and perfect friends. She’s a member of the young Washington elite, attending the prestigious Devenshire school with the vice president’s daughter and other children of privilege. She’s everything her parents wanted her to be.

But one night at a party, her boyfriend hands her a drink, and that’s the last thing she remembers. When she wakes up a few days later, she knows something happened, but can’t remember what. And in the meantime, the world is falling apart. A deadly flu virus is devastating the United States, and only her elite standing has kept her safe this far. With a strange man making odd, vaguely threatening comments to her, Bird doesn’t know who to trust. The only person she can turn to is Coffee, an outcast in their prep school … and her drug dealer. But Bird can’t shake the feeling that Coffee is the only person who understands her, and the only person willing to help her find out the truth about that night.

 

 

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heartRomance Score: Between Good Effort and A+ Success 

I rarely love YA romance, but this story was an exception. The romance between Bird and Coffee is so emotional and so intense that I could practically feel the tension just reading the pages. I love how Coffee sees Bird for herself – not who everyone else wants her to be. And I love that they repeatedly save one another.

 

Feminist Score:  Good Effort   Rosie

I love Bird’s transformation throughout the story – and how she really finds herself apart from her school status, parents, and all of the expectations. I was slightly disappointed that the spark for the change came (in part) from a comment by Coffee – but I also realize that’s just one of many factors. But by the end of the book, Bird is exactly the kind of woman that feminists can get behind.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success 

This books delves into the complexities of race and privilege in Washington D.C. in so many ways  – especially through Bird’s complicated relationship with her mother Carol. Bird’s grown up with everything – but she’s still one of a handful of black students at her school. Her mother fought hard to get her where she is, and refuses to let her slip in any way. According to Carol, anything less than Ivy League shows a lack of ambition, and her daughter is “Harvard, not Howard” material.

Throughout Love is the Drug, Johnson dives into complex issues of the racial politics of the drug war, elitism and race, and finding yourself within your culture.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between Good Effort and A+ Success 

I was so impressed by Love is the Drug. Not only was the plot super interesting, but it was beautifully written. The opening and closing of nearly every chapter was written like poetry, and the romance was heightened through it. Johnson’s descriptions of Washington D.C. brought me back to my favorite (and least favorite) parts of the city, and it was absolutely beautiful. I’m so glad I read this book.

Favorite Character

Coffee – His loyalty to Bird is incredible, and who can’t adore a guy who loves chemistry? I dig nerds, and (apparently) even the drug dealer kind.

Favorite Line

There were so many beautiful lines throughout this book. Here’s one of my favorite from the beginning:

“You are Bird, the skylight tells her. Emily fears the world. Bird can solve it. Bird will find her memories and break up with Paul and buy that store she’s always secretly dreamed of, and damn what her mother thinks of goals as humble and unambitious as shopkeeping” 

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes, absolutely. I’m a little wary of end-of-the-world books, but this one is so beautiful. Don’t skip it . 

 Fun Author(s) Fact 

There is not too much information available about Alaya Dawn Johnson’s personal life (which, of course, is a totally valid choice!), but I was blown away by her interview with GayYA on her intentions while writing her first book, The Summer Prince :

Right now there’s a ton of science fiction being published, but so much of it was so white, so much of it so straight.  So I kind of got this notion that I could write a science fiction novel that actually took notice of the rest of the world, put black people and the African diaspora front and center, actually open sexually–like, kinda use the power I had to create a whole new world and a whole new future for…a complicated good, I mean, obviously the world in The Summer Prince is not 100 percent wonderful, it’s not a utopia.  I mean…In my own thinking of it, it’s a complicated utopia, but anyway.

Much of this still applies to Love is the Drug, and I’m SO impressed by an author that executes so well on these intentions.

Read This Next

This is officially my go-to dystopian book for you now! But if you want to read another impressive black protagonist facing racial challenges, check out This Side of Home by Renee Watson (our review here).

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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Book Chat: All American Boys


25657130All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brenden Kiely

Summary

Rashad stops into the corner store to buy some potato chips and another shopper trips over him, sparking the store cop’s attention and leading to a brutal beating on the sidewalk outside the store. Quinn was heading to the store to ask someone to buy alcohol for him and his friends and, instead, ends up witnessing the horrible violence commited by the policeman. The story unfolds over the week that follows the beating – both boys trying to come to terms with what it means and trying to understand what they must do in the aftermath. The community and school reacts and Rashad and Quinn must decide what part they will play. all american boys.png


Favorite Character

Spoony – He’s the best kind of big brother. He watches out for Rashad – he gives him a couple extra dollars for snacks when he needs it and makes sure the media have a “respectable” picture of his little brother when the situation calls for it.

Favorite Line

This book has so much we need to hear.

“Look, if there are people who are scared of the police every day of their lives,” Jill said, determined, “I’m going to live in fear of them for at least one day to say that I don’t think that’s right.”

“Nobody says the words anymore, but somehow the violence still remains. If I didn’t want the violence to remain, I had to do a hell of a lot more than just say the right things and not say the wrong things.”

Fun Author Fact

Reynolds and Kiely were put on a tour together and didn’t know each other. It was right after the Martin-Zimmerman court decision and Reynolds was concerned he wouldn’t be able to keep his cool if Kiely said something insensitive on tour…but an ongoing conversation and friendship happened instead and this book is the result.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely. All the time. Please read it. Then share it. Then make that person share it. It’s a well written story but it’s much more than that.

Read These Next

This Side of Home by Renee Watson deals with gentrification of a neighborhood and dealing with the collision of communities or anything by Jason Reynolds, like When I Was the Greatest or Boy in the Black Suit.

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: Akata Witch

 

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Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Summary

Sunny has albinism and lives in Nigeria; her distinct appearance garners lots of attention and she’s tired of dealing with her frustrating classmates. After she gets into a fight and finds herself defended by another student, Orlu, she discovers there’s a lot more to the world – and herself – than meets the eye. Joining with her neighbor, Chichi, and newly arrived troublemaker, Sasha, the group of four are quickly embroiled in a dire race to stop the end of the world. They must quickly learn complex magical skills and gain wisdom beyond their years to stand against the evil that is coming. Together, the four discover truths about friendship, loyalty, and bravery.

akata witch

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

This score is almost a default because this is definitely on the younger end of YA (really MG) and there’s no real romance. Sasha and Chichi end up flirting and getting a little involved with one another, but there’s still not much there to gauge. You can see where friendships can turn into deeper, more romantically inclined relationships, but it’s not happening in this book.

RosieFeminist Score: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

There are a ton of role models in this book – Sunny, Chichi, Chichi’s mother, Sugar Cream, tons! And for the most part, they’re able to be themselves without harsh judgment. For example, it’s very clear that Chichi’s father has left his family behind, but because of her life choices – intentionally never marrying and focusing on knowledge – Chichi’s mother never comes off as pitiable, pathetic, or an “easy woman” (all stereotypical ways that an unmarried mother could be treated). Sunny and Chichi both have strong skills and are respected for them. Power and magical strength also generally comes through the mothers in this world, so there’s a lot of respect there. Plus, Sunny calls out and fights for equality in several situations – once the sun can’t bother her, she won’t give up her chance to play soccer with the boys. Being a girl won’t get in her way.

The one thing that drops this down from a full score is Sunny’s father and the way he treats both his wife and daughter. It’s never really made clear why he dislikes Sunny so much, except that he didn’t want a daughter and definitely not one with albinism. That’s obviously a big reason, but it doesn’t explain why he never moved past the disappointment and embraced his child. He’s also not the most tender of husbands, but it’s hard to tell if this is rooted in dissatisfaction with the “odd” mother-in-law he married into or general unhappiness with his situation. But, the lack of clarity is somewhat fitting for a younger narrator. And, I can see how this would give comfort to girls living in a similar situation – here’s a powerful character with a father and brother that don’t like her much, but that doesn’t hold her back from being amazing.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

So, this is one of those books where this score could go a couple of different ways depending on where you’re reading it. In Nigeria, it might get a lower score, although having a character with albinism does add some weight. Plus, two of the characters have lived/were born in the USA, so that’s different. In the US, this obviously tells a story placed outside the country’s borders with characters that look different from those currently the majority in most books. Really, no matter where you read it, you’ll get some level of representation that is generally lacking, so I’m going with the highest score.

BUT, big caveat – there can be an issue mixing albinism and magic. This is a huge stereotype and something that can lead to horrific treatment of albino people (especially in Africa). I think this gets a little bit of legitimacy because Okorafor is Nigerian-American, so she’s aware of the issues, and because Sunny is not the only magical person. Her three friends don’t have albinism and they’re just as magical as she is. This helps offset the “magical albino” trope quite a bit. It’s also clear that Sunny is not magical because she is albino, but that it’s an inherited trait from her grandmother, which further works to disconnect it from the stereotype. Still – something to be aware of.

Another note, Sasha and Sunny are both treated a little differently because they’ve lived in the US for extended periods of time. You do get a bit of the mistreated immigrant story line, mostly through microaggressions, like calling Sunny akata which is a negative term used for black Americans. Sunny, however, tries to accept and then find power in the term – so we get an immigrant narrative in a country that is not the US (!) and someone subverting an insult to find power.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Right between Good Effort and A+ Success

I really loved getting to know Sunny and her friends. I loved the world that she discovers as she learns more about the Leopard People and I LOVE a magical realm that is centered somewhere besides Europe with a distinctly African flavor, but which does not totally ignore the existence of magic across the globe. And, this is very specifically placed in a particular country and town (because Africa isn’t a country!). I would love to know more about what happens and how Sunny’s life changes as she grows into a young woman. I also would love to see how she balances the two lives and her relationship with her family…You know a book is good when it leaves you wondering what happens after you close it.

The one downside is that it felt like the end wrapped up very, very quickly and in a much tighter little ball than expected. I have seen Okorafor post on twitter that the published ending was not her intended one, so hopefully she will get a chance to expand on the story and flesh things out for us! (Note: A sequel should be here late 2016!)


 

Favorite Character

Orlu – I feel for him so much! He is like little-me – the rules are there for a reason, the rules help and guide us, don’t break the rules! And yet, he finds the strength to do what he must.

Favorite Line

“Neither (brother) even glaced at the counter. She smiled. Her dumb brothers never cooked. She didn’t think they even knew how! A human being who needs food to live but cannot prepare that food to eat? Pathetic. In this case, it was an advantage. They weren’t interested in any food until it had been cooked for them.”

Okorafor has a way of pulling out issues with just a few phrases – showing inequality, family dynamics, and Sunny’s personality.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely! It’s fun, it’s about magic and magic school, and the characters are engaging. And, it’s closer to middle grade so you get some of that innocence and joy that can be missing in “older” YA.

Fun Author Fact

Nnedi Okorafor is a heavily awarded writer and at least 3 of her stories are optioned for film or being adapted into a screenplay at this very moment.

Read These Next

Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall for a middle grade, magical Mexican story about five sisters and their journey from Texas to Mexico to return a dead man to his family or Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older for a Brooklyn based, Carribean-flavored story about magic and fighting for your family (review coming soon!).

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: Not Otherwise Specified

Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz17900792

Summary

Etta is dealing with a mess of things in her life – her best friends have kicked her out of their group for owning her bi identity (instead of sticking strictly to lesbians), she stopped dancing ballet – her one true love, and she has decided to face her anorexia and work for recovery. In the middle of this, she meets Bianca – someone unlike anyone she ever imagined as a friend – and they work together towards recovery, acceptance, and an elite theater and dance school in New York City.

not otherwise specified

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Romance Score: Good Effort

Etta isn’t looking for something serious in Nebraska because her heart is still set on her ex. There is a relationship in the book and they both are aware that it isn’t something serious, which lets them be comfortable and honest with each other. There’s not a lot of actual romance to judge, but I appreciate the sex-positive attitude in the book and that Etta’s family does their best to support all her romantic relationships even if they don’t always get it perfectly right.

RosieFeminist Score: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

Etta is strong and aware. Her experience as a black girl in Nebraska has given her some lessons. Her experience as bisexual in Nebraska has taught her some things – especially after her friends kick her out of their group (known as the “Disco Dykes”) because she wasn’t just into girls. Her experience as a black girl doing ballet taught her even more. The narrative is on point with so many things, it’s impressive (though it shouldn’t be). I especially liked the call out to toxic friendships. This goes back to something we say almost every podcast – when you’re in high school so many of your friendships are determined by who your parents are friends with, where you live, and what activities you do; it’s not necessarily up to actual personality match or liking each other. The other girls in the group are important, but Etta’s friendship and realizations about Rachel are even more important to see.

Through Etta’s experience with anorexia, blackness, bisexuality, and ballet, we get commentary on a long list of things that plague society (and especially girls and women of all varieties) and it’s actually talked about. Etta comes out on the other side with hard earned confidence  and a great perspective on being herself against all odds.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

There are a lot of different kinds of people in this book and it all feels wonderfully natural (as it should). Etta is black, bisexual, a recovering anorexic, and wealthy. Rachel is Japanese, diabetic, and a lesbian. Bianca is white, anorexic, deeply faithful, and poor. James, Bianca’s brother, is white, gay, and poor. Etta’s group of friends are aggressively lesbian – they call hetero girls “breeders” – I’m not trying to push any lesbian stereotypes by calling them aggressive; they really are. It’s high school and they carve out their space in a very particular way and it’s not a very kind way, but they’re fighting the norm in Nebraska, so maybe that’s the only way they feel they can survive.

The characters have some very real conversations about what all these identities mean for them and within their social context. Etta and Mason in particular lay out the difficulties of surviving as “different” from what is understood as the “norm.” They talk about race and being bisexual and being gay, but the comments that stood out the most were the ones about economic privilege. It is rarer than rare to find that in mainstream books and I appreciate that Moskowitz took the time to point out that her main character has a lot of privilege through money even if she lacks it in other areas. That kind of awareness is missing in a lot of YA and it’s frustrating when the solution is “go to another school” or “get a new car” or “go to the fanciest doctors” because that’s not practical or possible for so many readers.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

Etta’s voice is amazing and I loved the way her character came through in everything. I loved the awareness and social commentary throughout the story. I loved how her relationship with Bianca developed and that the book allowed Etta to interact with a large group of people rather than centering that one new person over all others. I will recommend this book to lots of people and I’m so glad I read it. I couldn’t give it a full A+ because, while I can appreciate the skill and amazing characterization, I didn’t exactly like the conversational style of the writing. I love Etta and her story, but this style isn’t for me.


Favorite Character

Kristina – Etta’s little sister is a bright, loving sister and I loved the way she stood up for and loved her sister completely. I wish we got a little more of her, but she was a bright little star even with her few moments.

Favorite Line

Pause to consider the fact that me dating a fourteen-year-old anorexic is okay but me dating a guy is not.

This book captures some of the absurd hypocrisies of our messed up culture while converting them to Etta’s particular situation.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes! I really liked getting to know Etta and rooting for her as she works for recovery and figuring out what decisions are hers. There’s a lot packed into this book and it’s wonderful to see 1. characters that actually look like the world 2. a story that can get to some very deep places while still having fun.

Fun Author Fact

Moskowitz sold her first book to a publisher while she was still in high school. WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE? Also, she struggled with her own disordered eating and she identifies as queer, so this book counts as an #ownvoices read in several ways.

Read These Next

Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sarah Farizan for more girls attracted to other girls and trying to deal or Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler (review coming soon!) for girls figuring out their identities while being under Hollywood’s eye.

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: Black Beauty

Black Beauty by Constance Burris

Summary

This is a collection of short stories and a novella featuring residents  26011960of a housing complex in Oklahoma. The characters’ stories interweave with each other and we learn a little more about a particular character, “Crazy” Jade, from each. Each of the short stories shows what happens when you will do anything to get what you want – and that there are consequences for using magical shortcuts. The novella introduces us to an alternate world and the difficulties of responsibility and not belonging.

 

black beauty

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Romance Score: You’re Trying

Since there are multiple storylines, it’s hard to score all of them fairly, but the stronger couple is in the novella. They have to balance different cultural and social expectations and responsibilities with their affection for one another. The other couples don’t have as many feelings to deal with when trying out a relationship.

Rosie

Feminist Score: Good Effort

This score was a pretty difficult decision for me – again because of the multiple stories there are some where I want to say absolutely NO and then others where I was excited to see the women standing up for each other. One story in particular deals with the social pressure to look a certain way and another shows how calling one woman an insult can represent the wider world’s views about women in general. I’m giving a higher score because, even when showing things I wouldn’t want to give points for, those problematic items are called out. Plus, women are the ruling queens in the storyline woven through each piece, so there’s that.

diversity people circle icon

Diversity Score: Good Effort

The stories take place in an apartment complex with mostly black and Latino/Hispanic residents – in itself is not usually represented in mainstream books. Add on that several of the families are living at or below the poverty line and you get something that is rarely seen. I really liked the world Burris built here; it’s definitely filling a hole that exists in publishing.

However, there are a couple of issues. One is that the woman behind all the lessons is called “Crazy Jade” by almost everyone. This is problematic because “crazy” has a long history of being used against women, especially black women, and people with mental health issues. And, people also keep talking about her “voodoo” but nothing that I read seemed related to the actual religion so it was perpetuating stereotypes about voodoo. I will say that one character does try to call out his friend for calling it voodoo, so there is a suggestion that it’s not ok, but it’s never fully deconstructed. The stories also explore colorism, sexism, body image, and “good” vs “bad” hair in the black community. I can’t really speak to the portrayal of hair or colorism issues except but I know they’re important so I’m glad to see them here. Overall, I think the characters and setting are much needed.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort

I didn’t connect with some of the characters as much as I would have liked (probably because these are short stories), but I still really liked getting to know the world and the people in it. I was intrigued by the novella and want to know what happens after it. Jade is an engaging character and I would love to know more about her backstory. Overall, the community and stories had just the right amount of “WAIT – what just happened?” to keep me involved while also showing the daily struggles of dealing with life.


Favorite Character

Sean – at first I liked him the most because he seemed the most level-headed, but as more of his story came out, he became an even richer character and I felt for him and his dad.

Favorite Line

Andre’s conversation with his sisters after he visits Jade was on point. You’ll have to read it yourself, though.

Fun Author Fact

Constance Burris is an environmental engineer, which just goes to show that science and art can mix!

Is this worth a book hangover?

The answer is going to totally depend on your reading preferences. This is a collection of paranormal stories with a bit of fantasy added into the novella. If you like that kind of thing and want to meet some great characters, go for it!

Read These Next

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older for another paranormal story in the city featuring underrepresented characters or Lament or Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater for the fae in our world.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess received this book for free through NetGalley, but that didn’t affect her opinions!

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 Chat – Out of Darkness

Out of Darkness by Ashely Hope Pérez

Summary

It’s 1937 and Naomi has recently moved with her half-brother and sister 25256386to a new town where her siblings father will care for them all. There she must try to navigate the racial divides of the oil town while navigating the difficult relationship between her and her stepfather. Then she meets Wash and things begin to improve. Set against the worst school tragedy in US history, the explosion is a larger framework for the individual crises and turmoil that Naomi and her family suffer.

Trigger warning: racially motivated violence, sexual violence, child abuse

out of darkness


Favorite Character

Beto – His old soul seems out of place in the real world and it feels like he’s connected to something deeper; he reminds everyone around him to cherish small details and his connection to something more will serve him as he deals with the aftermath of the book’s story.

Favorite Line

Guys, there are a ton of beautiful lines and the book is amazingly written, but don’t you know by now that I’m the worst at keeping track of them?

Fun Author Fact

Pérez is a teacher, though she also loves libraries, and has taught all school levels. She’s currently a professor of world literature and credits her students for encouraging her to write.

Is this worth a book hangover?

It’s beautifully written and the characters are amazing, but it’s not a happy story. I think this book is valuable, especially if you’ve lead a life privileged enough to not experience racial or sexual violence. If you have personal experience with racial, ethnic, or sexual  violence, I would hesitate to recommend this and would give a full disclaimer that this will only underline what you already know.

Read These Next

This Side of Home by Renee Watson for a contemporary look at similar issues with a more positive ending or Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley for another look at the end of segregation with another boundary-crossing love story.

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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Filed under Heavy Topics, High School, Historical, Romance

Book Discussion: Everything, Everything

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Summary

Madeline has allergies – to everything. Really, she’s basically allergic to the world. Her house has an airlock entrance to ensure 18692431contaminants are removed before anyone comes to visit, the air filtration system could probably rival the space station, and Madeline is absolutely not allowed outside. With books and her online classes, she’s fairly content with life. But then! A new family moves in next door and Madeline’s attention is drawn to the outside world. She watches life unfold for her new neighbors, quickly falls for Olly, the parkour-jumping, hat-wearing, teenage guy and their relationship slowly pushes Madeline to reach for the world.

heartRomance Score: A+ Success Good Effort

Madeline’s love for Olly felt a little too fast, but then again – he’s the only boy around and she can stare out her window pining away all day if she wants, so it’s also totally plausible. After the initial butterflies, their relationship develops in the best kind of emotional swirl – I thought the late-night messaging and emails exactly replicated the fraught tension of “what did he mean by that period instead of an exclamation point” social-media, technology-driven “dating.” I thought some of their activities felt a bit hurried, but they also feel very in line with Madeline and her frenetic rush to feel and experience everything. They push boundaries, they take risks, and, ultimately, they make each other reach for a better life. EDIT: I reduced this down because, while I thought it was believable, I’m sad that we couldn’t get two teens taking a serious health condition seriously.

RosieFeminism Score: A+ Success

Madeline is smart and funny and she goes after what she wants – in more ways than one. She doesn’t let her allergies make her bitter. She dreams of accomplishing great things and, even though she may never go outside, she works to understand the world beyond her house. I think she’s a great example of a teen making choices for herself, and knowing that sometimes, you really do have to do things for you. While I could take points away because of Madeline’s mother, I think it’s important to see how tragedy can break a person and how coping (well or poorly) takes many different forms. And, Olly’s mom is a side character without even a name, but with her son’s help, she manages to break free of a truly awful situation and stand up for herself.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort
You’re Trying

From the summary and character descriptions this looks like it should be an A+. Madeline is Afro-Asian with an illness that keeps her locked inside all the time. Her racial/ethnic diversity is central to her character and the other main figures in her life are only her mother (Asian) and her nurse (Latina). When Olly comes on the scene, she’s pretty fascinated by his white family – and by him. I appreciate the beginning of the book – the portrayal of someone suffering from a disease that inhibits her interaction with the everyday and what that means for creating an internal world, the few relationships she’s permitted, and her ability to experience life (or not) was well developed. I thought the relationship with Carla, the nurse, a great illustration of how long-term illness brings other people into your life. I thought her mom’s reaction to one of Carla’s decisions also interesting – highlighting the difficult interplay of professionalism and genuine care/love that caregivers balance. However, I found the end a bit of a let down. I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but, it’s really hard. So, if you would like to avoid spoilers, skip to the Awesome Factor section (but you really shouldn’t if you care about good rep).

So, I’m going to start by saying that I guessed the end about halfway through. I think I’m a cynic though, because other reviewers are mostly surprised. My issue with the end (SPOILERS): by having the disease be a lie, it feels a bit like the “magical cure.” A character struggling with disease is, ultimately, not actually diseased and she can find happiness and love because she isn’t “abnormal” or “sick.” I also find it frustrating that she discovers the truth because she steps out into the air for a boy instead of doing some sleuthing at home. While I found Olly and Maddy’s relationship sweet and steamy, it makes me sad that a guy was the instigator for finding the truth. I think this would have been even more powerful had Maddy truly had SCID and had to navigate allergies, the outside world, and living more fully with Olly by her side. Of course, that would have been a different story, so…it is what it is. EDIT: I’m really didn’t like the end when I posted the original review and now, it’s even more powerful distaste for this “twist.” To negate the disability rep, to make her treat her life as unworthy of living unless she’s living it like other people, and to have it basically be a story about parental abuse…just all around dislike. And, I’m really sad that this is getting so much love and a movie and a snapchat filter (like…how much money is marketing throwing at this??!?!] For more detailed review of what this means for disability rep, check out this review at Disability in Kid Lit and this review on Goodreads.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort You’re Trying

Ultimately, I enjoyed this book and I would recommend it to readers who are looking for something sweet, tingly, and exciting. [EDIT: This book STILL (1 year later) sits with me because the ending made me so unhappy. I rescind my recommendation. Please read the disability section for reasons.] Maddy is a bright girl and she’s funny. I like her sense of humor and her realistic twists of insight mixed with optimistic yearning. I thought the characterization was great – neither Olly or Maddy feel flat and, while we don’t get a lot of Olly’s life outside of his interactions with Maddy, he still feels believable, if a little too perfect for her. Madeline’s interactions with her mother and Carla were special – highlighting the difficulty of growing up with only two people in your life and how that can be both intensely supportive and suffocating. Overall, it’s a book about making decisions for yourself, taking a leap of faith, and believing that love is worth having. [BUT, is love worth having over an actual life????]


Favorite Character

Carla – she tries to do her best for Maddy no matter what while remaining within the professional guidelines of her job. She’s been around for most of Madeline’s life and she has ideas about things, but she does whatever she can to make Maddy’s life easier and happier while still giving her hard truths.

Favorite Line

“A universe that can wink into exist can wink out again.” Maddy has lots of quick little lines and I’m sure others about the joy and happiness with Olly will catch reader’s eye, but I thought this one captures it while adding the sadness of reality.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Ultimately, yes, I recommend this book. [Edit: Again, I rescind this. I just find the ending too problematic.] It was a fun read and I enjoyed Maddy’s perspective. The book is mixed-media, too, so you get drawings, emails, messaging conversations, and sketches, not just text. I always find this type of thing interesting – some people love it, sometimes it’s gimmicky. Here I think it generally works to illustrate Maddy’s limited exposure to the outside world. This is a sweet, fun taste of first, intense love and it’s tingly in the best way while still making you cheer for Maddy’s strength.

Fun Author Fact

This isn’t about Yoon (sorry!), but I have to share this: When I was in elementary school, my aunt sent me a t-shirt from Hawaii (where she lived). It had the humhumnukunukuapua’a on it and I wore it every Tuesday. I loved that shirt and I loved the fish’s mention in this book.

Read These Next

I’ve heard that Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall provides better representation. The One Thing by Marci Lyn Curtis for a story about a girl struggling to accept her disability and (according to Goodreads) a surprising revelation or Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy for a book about self-acceptance, fighting expectations, and confidence.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess received her copy of Everything, Everything through NetGalley for free in exchange for an honest review.

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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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School, Romance

Book Discussion: Boy in the Black Suit

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

Summary

Matthew is a high school student dealing with a lot – his mom recently died and his dad isn’t handling it well – and Matt is just looking The Boy in the Black Suitfor a way to handle all his emotions. When he’s offered a job at the local funeral home, he decides to take it and finds a strange sort of comfort in the grief and pain of others. Then, he meets a girl and things get even more complicated.

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

Matt gets a crush very early in the story and it slowly unfolds in the sweetest way possible. I really liked their relationship and the great dates they went on. I appreciated that Matt had his parents’ relationship and Mr. Ray to give him guidance, and the advice from his best friend, Chris, made me laugh. The relationship is central to the story, but also ancillary to the emotional roller coaster and growth that Matthew goes through.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

The women in this book affect Matthew a lot – he is reeling from his mother’s death and she was a force to reckon with – but they aren’t the main characters. There’s a strong score here because Matt respects the women in his life and treats them kindly – this could have gone very wrong since it’s high school age boys being depicted, but even Chris’s advice is more encouraging banter than crude awfulness. I appreciated that all the older men respected and loved their wives as well. The one tough part is a key experience from earlier in all the characters’ lives; unfortunately, it reflects a truth that, hopefully, will be less and less true as time goes on.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

This is another book that really depends on the reader for its diversity score. It takes place in New York City, in a predominantly black and low income community. To some readers this will have a score of “Not a Bit” because it reflects their community, family, and life exactly; to others it will score “A+ Success” because it tells a story through a character in a setting they may not have ever met or experienced. I’m giving it this score because I think it respectfully portrays the people involved while successfully capturing the life of the community and depicts life and people that aren’t very common in the printing/publishing world.

wow iconAwesome Factor: A+ Success

As someone that went to lots of funerals as a child and teen, I understand where Matt is coming from in his need to connect with others (but not claiming my experience as even closely similar). I also saw Reynolds speak at the NOVA Teen Book Festival and he talked a lot about how grief and humor aren’t mutually exclusive. I think he did a great job balancing the two here and loved Matthew’s journey through his grief. I loved the cookbook and the use of the kitchen and food to reflect his emotional process.


Favorite Character

Mr. Ray – He’s such a great role model for Matt, is a foundation for the entire community, and I love his care and concern for everyone, but especially Matt. I also really appreciated his backstory – I think it’s so important for there to be adult characters that have history. Sometimes teenagers (heck, EVERYONE) forgets that adults have their own difficulties, pains, and sorrows – and Mr. Ray is a great example of how our beginnings affects us through the rest of our lives.

Favorite Line

“Of course, I couldn’t tell him the truth. The truth that I was having a hard telling myself. I liked the funerals…I liked watching other people deal with the loss of someone, not because I enjoyed seeing them in pain, but because, somehow, it made me feel better knowing that my pain isn’t only mine. That my life isn’t the only one that’s missing something it will never have back.”

Oh Matt, I feel for you so much.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I definitely recommend this! I also reviewed Reynolds’s When I was the Greatest and I think I’m putting him on my “must read” list. He does a great job creating sweet, earnest characters with deep, heartfelt stories. Plus, I love the sense of place and community that he builds.

Fun Author Fact

Reynolds talks to himself on the way home from the train so he doesn’t forget new characters and plots. He was also “forced” to read because an aunt kept giving him books as gifts and he decided to finally give them a chance.

Read This Next

Obviously, check out our review of When I was the Greatest, but also try Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina.

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: Tiny Pretty Things

Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

Summary

Many little girls take ballet class, and dream of one dancing as a professional soloist. But there precious few positions in the professional dancing world, and even fewer leads. To become a soloist, you must be mentally and physically strong, and willing to do anything to be the best.

Join the cut-throat, elite American Ballet Conservatory, where every girl wants to be the next prima ballerina. Bette, who comes from an elite ballet family and grew up watching her sister star as the Sugar Plum Fairy, will stop at nothing to remain the favorite.  June is struggling on every front – trying to convince her mother to let her stay at school, maintaining her tiny weight while not alerting the school nutritionist, and learning about her family history. And Gigi is the new girl – new to the school, the state, and the level of competition. All three of them want to be on top, but only one girl can dance the soloist position.

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heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort 

Who knew that there was so much romance going on at a competitive ballet school? Surprisingly, Tiny Pretty Things explores a number of interesting romances, including a few ballerina-ballerhino couples. The power dynamics in the relationship were so complicated and interesting. I’m looking forward to seeing where future relationships take these characters. This isn’t exactly a romantic book (given the cut-throat, competitive nature of elite dance), but it definitely added to the story.

FRosieeminist Score: You’re Trying 

I really enjoyed this story, but some of the tactics really, really scared me. While I think these relationships are likely true to elite competitive activities, I would have liked to see one or two examples of great female friendship.

diversity people circle icon

Diversity Score: A+ Success 

Tiny Pretty Things excellently captured the struggles of being different in a world in which every ballerina is expected to look the same. Many of the characters struggle with their identity in a compelling manner. June struggles to fit in as a half-Korean half-white ballerina, Gigi battles wild assumptions about her race, and even Bette struggles to maintain her level of perfection. I easily related to all three of their struggles, and Tiny Pretty Things perfectly captured the identity confused associated with growing up.

wow icon Awesome Factor: Good Effort 

As a former dancer and current type-A person, I really enjoyed this book. Although there are some parts that were hard to read (especially around certain tactics used to get ahead), I couldn’t put it down. Even if you’re not a dancer, it’s worth the read – the characters alone will keep you thinking long after you finish the story.


Favorite Character

Bette. I love a good villain, especially one as smart, complex, and confused as Bette.

Favorite Line

“It’s finally here. The moment I’ve been waiting all my sixteen years for. The moment that will lift me out of mediocrity and onto the horizon, make me the next prime-time-worthy prima of the dance world, elevate me higher than I ever truly thought possible.

Make no mistake: I’ve fought long and hard for this moment, given blood, sweat, and tears, deprived myself at every turn. I’ve earned this.”

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes!  Between the interesting setting (the dance studio), the dynamic and complex characters, and the insane competition, this book can easily be finished in one sitting. It was well written and totally worth the read. 

Fun Author Fact

Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton co-authored the book in a fascinating way. In an interview with the School Library Journal, they explained their process: Dhonielle wrote Gigi, Sona wrote June, and they both wrote Bette.

Read This Next
I have yet to find another book that discusses dance so completely. Instead, I’ll recommend Under the Painted Sky by Stacey Lee. Check out our review here.

Post Author: Anisha

AnishaAnisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School