Tag Archives: Native representation

October Book Round Up

It’s been a month since my last post and that one was belated, too. To remedy my long-delayed posting, I’m going to do a round up with short reviews of the things I’ve been reading. This way, they still get the kudos they deserve and I can feel less guilty about all the draft posts languishing in my drafts folder.

RUN by Kody Keplinger

This story follows two girls as their friendship grows and they face difficult decisions about 23613983who they want to be and how to escape the expectations their family and town have for them. Agnes is a rule-follower and Bo is the “wild” girl with the “bad” background.

I loved how truthful this was about the intensity of friendships and how they can be both good and bad for you. I thought the strength each girl took from the other was important and that they could take misguided steps that lead them somewhere more healthy/happy. On the diversity level: This takes place in a rural town, so (lack of) privilege is woven into the story, Agnes is blind, Bo is bisexual, and this is #ownvoices (Keplinger was born legally blind and co-founded Disability in Kid Lit!).

On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis

22020598Earth’s end is finally here – a comet is hurtling toward the planet. Denise, her mother, and sister try to make their way to the government shelter, but delays interrupt their plans and they end up on a grounded ship that will launch into space and save its passengers once it can take off. But without the extensive vetting that the other passengers had, Denise has to prove her worth to keep her and her family safe.

This was an interesting look at how different people deal with the end of the planet and what accommodations needs to be made for all kinds of people to survive and flourish. I so appreciated that, thought it’s an “apocalypse” story,  it’s not explosions and high intensity action – it’s much more drawn out and about the people. Diversity wise: Denise is biracial and has autism (#ownvoices), her sister is transgender, and her mother is a drug-addict. These characteristics are integral to the plot without being the plot, which makes it even better.

Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera

Kahu is born when her grandfather is looking for the next great male heir to the chiefdom.949039 His disappointment at her being a girl is woven throughout everything he does, but Kahu has the love and support of her uncle, grandmother, and father. And through her  perseverance and love in the face of disappointment and the weight of tradition, she may just change everything. Maori stories are woven throughout the book and included in interludes between sections of the plot.

I loved the movie adaptation of this when it came out and was excited to finally read this. I would say this is on the lower end of YA, closer to middle grade, but it was still engaging. This is a great example of how adaptation and gender equality (or progress toward it) can come from within a tradition and a look at how colonialism can affect indigenous peoples. Diversity: This is #ownvoices from a Maori New Zealander.

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

20702546Gabi tells her diary about the struggles with boys, food, friendships, and her family’s expectations – and we get to read it all. She writes poetry, figures out what being “good” means to her, and helps her best friend through pregnancy and motherhood.

Gabi’s voice is amazing and her character comes through on every page. She is dealing with a lot, but manages to find optimism through everything. I don’t love diary-type stories, so this book’s style wasn’t really for me, but I still loved getting to know Gabi! Diversity: Gabi is Latina, one of her best friends is gay, she’s dealing with an addict parent, money is a problem, and this is #ownvoices.


Shout Outs

Not going to go into any detail, but you should also DEFINITELY check out:

A Torch Against the Night (#2 in a series) by Saba Tahir

Crooked Kingdom (#2 in a series) by Leigh Bardugo

Court of Fives (#1 in a series) by Kate Elliot (Elliot is a new favorite, read ALL her stuff)

 

 

 

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Filed under Adventure, Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School

April Raintree

April Raintree by Beatrice Mosionier 30732400

Summary

April and her sister Cheryl are Métis living in Canada. They are removed from their parents’ home and custody and we follow them through foster homes, school, marriage, and more. This book doesn’t flinch from showing how poorly Native people have been treated in North America and April’s journey to finding her strength, forgiveness, and happiness is powerful.

april raintree

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

When April finally finds happiness, it is a long time coming and the man she ultimately ends up with is totally swoonworthy with his willingness to wait, to uplift her, to give her support, to be there while she deals with her history, trauma, grief, and recovery. Plus, her romantic trajectory is one I think many people will relate to – innocence and a desire to be safe playing into her first pick and then defensiveness keeping her from a real winner…at least for a while.

Of course, there are also awful dirtbags in the book who contribute to April and Cheryl’s emotional and physical pain, including a rape, so it’s not all sunshine. The end is resilient and hopeful though.

RosieFeminist Score: A+ Success

Women are pretty awful to April and Cheryl in this book – because they are Métis, because they are foster children, because they are poor, because because because…society has taught them to tear each other down. But, both girls rebel against this in their own way.

Cheryl is a spitfire protesting the treatment of Native communities in Canada and searching for the bits and pieces she can find to revive pride in herself and her identity. She offers support to other girls and women and she works within her community for change…until the weight of it all is too much to bear.

April takes a lot longer to find her space as Métis, but she has her own quiet resiliency. She faces slutshaming, betrayal, and more and still manages to retain her hopeful, gentle spirit. She tries to be there for her sister, even if she makes mistakes. And then, when the terrible happens, she doesn’t sit quietly and let things get neatly swept under the rug. Instead, she resolutely plows ahead with her rape trial. When she finally begins to heal – even through her grief – it’s a joy to see.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

This book features and centers Métis girls and their community. Through Cheryl, insidious racism is called out and we get a depiction of depression (and tw: suicice) that doesn’t flinch from how destructive it can be. Through April, the experiences of many Native women find a voice. Through the sisters and their experience as foster children, we see families torn apart by poverty and a system that didn’t (doesn’t) provide the support necessary for families to survive and prosper. Teachers and caseworkers expect the worst from the girls, never even offering another future. We don’t often get to see this kind of intersectionality and a clear illustration of the way systemic oppression works to prevent health…to prevent life.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

This is a truth book – it’s  hard to read because your heart hurts for the sisters, but you know in reading it that you are being given a truth that needs to be heard. As an outsider, this is a reminder to address privilege and to do what you can to support communities that your privilege allows you to ignore. If your identity is more closely aligned with April and Cheryl, I imagine this is a book for your soul – showing you that you are not alone.

I am glad to have read this book. The writing is very straightforward and simple (not my preferred writing style), and I think this helps in some places to make the story more powerful; at other times, it felt like it was too bare.


Favorite Character

Cheryl – because she fights the system and offers her love and support to her community until it breaks her.

Fun Heartbreaking Author Fact

Much of what happens in April Raintree is based off of Mosionier’s own life. She remains active in Canada pushing for environmental and Native issues.

Is this worth a book hangover?

The story is interesting and the characters are compelling. The sisterhood – with its highs and lows – is one of my favorite parts. This is an important book and, while it’s not necessarily an easy read, I think it’s worth it…but it may be one you linger over as your heart takes breaks from the sadness.

Read These Next

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie offers a more humorous take on Native American life in the US or The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock for an ensemble look at life for teens and children in 1970 Alaska.

Post Author: Jess

I received a free copy through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Filed under Heavy Topics, High School, Historical

Book Discussion: The Smell of Other People’s Houses

The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock19370304

Summary

It’s 1970 and Alaska is changing and so are the lives of everyone that lives there. It’s not an easy life, and secrets make it even harder. Ruth, Dora, Alyce, and Hank are teenagers, but they much make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives now…and those decisions will change everything.

smell of houses

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

There are two romances: one shows how privilege protects boys/men from the consequences of their choices and the other is a sweet, sort-of-love-at-first-sight-but-not-really story. That they both happen to Ruth makes the second all that sweeter. Usually I think the insta-love is a little silly, but in this case the serendipity and the vulnerable place where each person is at the moment they meet made it seem reasonable to me (plus, my romantic side wants to believe!).

Rosie Feminist Score: Good Effort

Parts of this book are hard. There’s partner abuse, child abuse, a grandmother that thinks she knows best, religious morality restricting choices, and boys that do whatever they want and receive no punishment. But, there’s also women that are respected, women that protect each other, women that work together to benefit the community, a grandmother that acknowledges her mistakes, and several teenagers that make empowering choices.

I feel like this is our most inconsistent category because in other books I would take points off for violence against women. But, it truly depends on the story and how it’s dealt with. Domestic violence/violence against women and, especially, violence against Native women is a fact and Alaska does have higher rates of this, so to ignore it would be a lie. I feel that the community involvement and the character development with this story line make it a strength, not a weakness of the story.

And, most important for me, the women and girls (generally) stand up for, protect, and encourage each other. And, even if they don’t do so at the beginning, they find a place of respect and love by the end.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

This is Alaska in the ’70s, it had only been a state for 11 years and things were still settling down. Through the characters, we see how both Native and colonist/settler communities hoped and worked for a statehood that would benefit, not restrict them.

Through the girls, we see what life looks like for some Alaskan Natives – moved off their land, ridiculed, struggling with few resources, but also maintaining traditions through summer camps and sharing winter stores as a community. One of the comments that most struck me, though, was when the girls mentioned that teachers couldn’t even get their affiliations right – that there are many tribes and groups in the area and that one does not equal the other. There was a sense throughout the book of the tensions between the two communities (Native and settler) and I appreciated that it didn’t shy away from that.

I also liked that this book featured characters living in difficult economic situations. So often YA features (upper) middle class (white) characters and life looks very different for someone that worries about where their next meal will come from than about which shoes they’ll buy for the dance. I am not saying the wealthy don’t deserve stories, they have important things to say too, I’m just saying that we also need stories of people without wealth.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between Good Effort and A+ Success

I really enjoyed this book. Almost to A+ Success levels.

I loved the setting and that we see a full picture of the community. I liked the characters and the variety of stories we got from them. I loved how the stories interwove with each other. I think this is an important, lovely book and I will recommend it. I think it touched on a lot of interesting and important topics that, although it took place in 1970, are still relevant today.

I think I’m held back because everything at the end wrapped up very nicely into a little bow and it just felt a little too perfect.


Favorite Character

I think I liked Alyce most. She had big dreams and she loves ballet, but she also guts fish and loves her family.

Favorite Line

….this whole book is beautiful. I loved the writing.

Fun Author Fact

Hitchcock worked in commercial fishing and radio before her book was published.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely. I really loved the characters, the story, and how much place plays a role in the narrative. I definitely recommend this!

Read These Next

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina for a contemporary, place-based story focused on family or Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo for an ensemble cast set in a fantasy land.

Post Author: Jess

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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://i1.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

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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: 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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