Tag Archives: race

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: Shadowshaper

22295304Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Summary

Sierra is excited to spend the summer with her friends and to finish up the mural she started on an abandoned building on her block. That is…until the murals around her start to move and fade and the people around her start to keep secrets. As she digs into just what is going on, she learns that her family’s heritage involves shadowshaping – using specific talents to harness the powers of the spirits around them. But someone is attacking shadowshapers and instead of enjoying the summer she has to figure out how to stop the killer and save her family.

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Romance Score: A+ Success

The tingles between Robbie and Sierra are a slow burn that doesn’t take over the narrative. Sierra depends on Robbie for information about shadowshaping and respects him for his drawing skills long before she starts to feel anything extra for him. It’s only as the mystery – and danger – build that she starts to accept that he could be anything more. Her feelings for him are only a small part of the story unfolding and I liked that it was more about Sierra rocking her new skills and accepting her family’s heritage with a small side of heart business.

Rosie

Feminist Score: A+ Success

There are several different kinds of ladies in this book, but they all rock it. Sierra fights for what she wants, protecting her friends, family, and her desire to understand her family history. Sierra’s grandmother proves that there’s no way to stop a matriarch when she’s made a decision – even if she has to sacrifice herself. And, even though we may disagree with her decisions, we understand why Sierra’s mother made the decisions she did when faced with difficult choices (and we get to see her change her mind). Plus, there’s no single way to be a woman – we have Sierra that likes to dress in old tee shirts and jeans, Bennie that wants to be a scientist or or biologist or…something intellectualee, T and Izzy, Sierra’s two lesbian friends, and Nydia, a Puerto Rican working at the Colombia library. All of them are doing their best to be their best in a world set against them.

Sierra calls out a lot of things throughout the book. She talks about her natural hair and loving it even if it’s not considered “good hair.” She talks about colorism in the community and rants at her aunt for acting like lighter is better. She gets whistled at, yelled at, and propositioned while walking down the street and points out how messed up it is. If it’s something women (especially women of color) deal with, Sierra hits on it.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

This book blows it away. We have Sierra – Puerto Rican-American, Robbie – Haitian (American?), and Sierra’s friends from several backgrounds. Tee and Izzy are lesbians. Her grandfather has recently suffered a stroke and is incapacitated in many ways. The story takes play in Brooklyn, New York, and you get strong sense of place. Conversations about gentrification occur a couple of times without feeling like they were stuck in to “make a point.” And the book revolves around non-European folklore and ancestral memory which we also don’t see often.

The book will be a strong mirror for many readers – there’s Spanish (not italicized), food, dancing, music, and other cultural markers that will mean everything to readers that don’t usually get to see themselves in books. It will also serve as a good window book – though that is a side bonus, not the focus – because Older writes with such a deft hand and Sierra is an engaging character.

wow iconAwesome Factor: A+ Success

The characters and story are engaging. The location and sense of place are on point and the pace does not let go once it gets started. I really enjoyed the story and almost missed my metro stop a couple of times because I couldn’t stop reading. There’s a lot going on in the book peripheral to the story – police brutality, gentrification, misogyny, sexism, racism – they all get attention but it never feels like it’s been shoved in to make an issue. Instead, it always feels like a natural part of Sierra’s (and her friends’) experience.

I really liked Sierra’s voice and the fun cast of characters that she brings with her. I would definitely recommend this to anyone that enjoys paranormal, supernatural, urban, fantasy, or action-packed stories.

Also – THAT COVER.


Favorite Character

Sierra – because she’s spunky, and bright, and doesn’t let other people’s expectations or restrictions hold her back. (But, I want to give a shout out to Bennie for being an awesome friend that reps the nerdy side of things.)

Favorite Line

This is long, but I laughed out loud. Plus, since I studied anthropology in university, I feel a little extra love for this excerpt. I also loved the way this book discussed the ethical (and privilege) issues around anthropology.

“Imma write a book,” Tee announced. “It’s gonna be about white people.”

Izzy scowled. “Seriously, Tee: Shut up. Everyone can hear you.”

“I’m being serious,” Tee said. “If this Wick cat do all this research about Sierra’s grandpa and all his Puerto Rican spirits, I don’t see why I can’t write a book about his people. Imma call it Hipster vs. Yuppie: a Culturalpological Study.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely. It was fast, fun, and exciting. I enjoyed getting to know Sierra and her family  – and her family’s heritage. I definitely recommend this is you’re looking for something action filled.

Fun Author Fact

Older has one of the most interesting twitter accounts – if you care about young adult books, diversity, representation, inequality, and justice in the US.

Read These Next

This Side of Home by Renée Watson for a story about twins dealing with a neighborhood in change or Black Beauty by Constance Burris for another paranormal story deeply rooted in place and community.

 

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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: Rebel Queen

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Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran

Summary

Sita does not like her future.

Her mother died at childbirth, leaving her with a baby sister, a cruel grandmother, and a loving but poor father. Sita is bound by the rules of purdah, and cannot travel outside of her home without a male to accompany her. She has to wait for her father to find her a husband, but with almost no dowry money and a lot of ambition, she’s not sure that she wants this for herself.

Her only chance to get out is to join the durga dal, a group of elite women who help protect the queen of Jhasni (Tamora Pierce fans, think Thayat’s Riders). Sita knows that no girl from her village has ever been a durga dal but she’ll do everything she can to make her own life for herself.

But even if she becomes a durga dal, her life will be even more challenging. Her Queen, the famous Lakshmi, is the second wife of a weak king of a small princedom. She is effectively ruling for him, and trying to manage the ever-growing power and requests of the British East India Company while remaining publicly demure to her husband. Can Sita be the protector of such a complex and powerful woman?

heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I wasn’t completely hooked by the romance in this story. Sita and her suitors romance is not particularly compelling to me. Given all of the details around the treatment of women in this story, I had a hard time believing a romance could exist for a female fighter.

Feminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good EffortRosie

Sita is a female fighter in a male-dominated society, which automatically gives her some brownie points. In many ways, though, she was still very much powerless. Even with all her training and skills, she is still beholden to her grandmother’s rules, and still allows her sister to remain in the village and under the rules of purdah. I think I expected more fight out of Sita, and was disappointed when I did not see it.

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Diversity Score: Good Effort

I loved that this book tackled a story that is relatively unknown to the Western world, and enjoyed a picture of historical Indian life from a unique female perspective.

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Awesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

While this story had a lot of potential and great reviews, I have to admit, it wasn’t my favorite. I don’t think I really connected with Sita, and I was frustrated by her lack of action. As one of the few women with power in her society, she did shockingly little to help the one person she loved the most, her sister. And while I enjoyed learning about her back story, I would have preferred to have the story narrated by Queen Lakshmi.


Favorite Character

Queen Lakshmi. She has to balance both the traditional duties as a queen (serving her husband and producing heirs) and the challenges of ruling. I would love a story from her point of view.

Favorite Line

The War stole so many people from us, and still it’s not over. Sometimes, when Raashi is taking me on the train, I’ll catch a glimpse of a young man struggling against the guards who are trying to remove him from the first-class cabin, where only British are allowed to sit, and that’s how I know the war isn’t finished”.

I love timeless lines, and this rings true today. In how many ways are our own race wars not yet finished?

Is this worth a book hangover?

Maybe. It wasn’t my favorite Michelle Moran book (I’m partial to Cleopatra’s Daughter), but it was an interesting perspective on a relatively unknown story.

Fun Author Fact

Michelle Moran and her husband had an Indian wedding (in India). Pictures of her beautiful wedding, including her awesome henna, can be found on her website.

Read This Next

Beneath the Marble Sky by John Shors. Beneath the Marble Sky is the fictionalized story of the life of Princess Jahanara, daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife, Arjumand Banu Begum (the woman for whom the Taj Mahal was built).

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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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.

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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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Book Chat: This Side of Home

This Side of Home by Renee Watson

Summary

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Being American does not mean being white.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

  

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

  1. Books are doors into other’s lives

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

  1. Our stories reflect our individual truths.

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

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

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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School, Historical

Book Discussion: Lies We Tell Ourselves

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Summary

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

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

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

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

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

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

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

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

wow icon Awesome Factor: A+ Success

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


Favorite Character

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

Favorite Line

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

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

Is this worth a book hangover?

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

Fun Author Fact

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

Read This Next

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

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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