Tag Archives: religion

Book Discussion: Beneath a Marble Sky

Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors

Summary

When many people think of India, they think of the Taj Mahal. Most have vaguely heard of the story — how the magnificent white tomb was built by a grieving husband for his deceased wife. But how many have wondered beyond the building of the moment, and to the lives of those involved in the events that took place in 17th century India?

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. Jahanara lives the privileged life as the favorite daughter of the Emperor, watching her parents rule India and spending time with her brothers. But after her mother dies, and her father begins a downward spiral of grief, Jahanara is forced to grow up quickly. She must help her father rule, and deal with increasingly dangerous power battles with her brother, Auragzeb. Auragzeb, a religious fanatic who twists the words of the Quran to support his cause, is determined to seize the throne, even if it means overthrowing his peace-seeking older brother. Jahanara must decide how to balance her love and duty to her family with her own safety and happiness.

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

I really enjoyed the romance in this story because it was not all-consuming. Jahanara and her partner are both deeply devoted to their work, and realize the importance of duty as well as their own personal happiness. I’ll admit that it’s a little too picture-perfect, especially for that time period, but I really fell in love with both characters and enjoyed watching them together.

FRosieeminist Score: Good Effort 

Beneath the Marble Sky takes place in 17th century India, where the role of women (even the imperial royal princess) was fairly limited. Jahanara navigates tricky political and social constructs to be an effective ruler in a male-ruled society. This story surely takes some liberties with the historical context, and the freedoms Jahanara is allowed, but it was well worth it.

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Diversity Score: Good Effort 

One of the best parts of Beneath the Marble Sky are the references to Islam. Through Jahanara’s eyes, we see both the peace and beauty of the religion, as well as as how power-seeking individuals will use “religious” justification to convince people to follow them. Every time Aurangzeb tries to use the Quran to justify violence, Jahanara counters him with other verses. Too many books focus on Islam as the justification for evil, rather than recognize that every written word can be twisted for political gain.

wow icon Awesome Factor: Good Effort 

This has been one of my favorite historical fiction stories since high school. I’ve always been pulled in by the fast-moving plot, and the language is beautiful. I’m always (unfairly) a little wary of authors who write about an unfamiliar culture — e.g. a white man writing about a Muslim-Indian teenage princess. But John Shors writes respectfully and compassionately, and doesn’t try to generalize an entire society by one particular viewpoint.


Favorite Character

Jahanara. She is determined to help her father and brothers, even at the expense of her own happiness.

Favorite Line

“The Qur’an is a book of many faces. As much as Aurangzeb liked to quote its passages concerning revenge, misdeeds, and hellfire, it is also a text that speaks often of forgiveness, charity and goodwill. Unlike my brother, I always found these verses to be most profound. They comforted me tremendously.” 

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes, especially if you like historical fiction! 

Fun Author Fact

According to his Twitter, John Shors plans literary tours to the settings of his novels. I would love to visit the Taj Mahal with him, and understand what drew him to write particular parts of the novel.

Read This Next
Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran. If you enjoy well-told historical fiction, Michelle Moran’s books are always great reads. While Cleopatra’s Daughter is my favorite, I’ve also enjoyed The Second Empress, the story of Napolean’s reluctant second wife.

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 Historical

Book Discussion: Bumped

Bumped by Megan McCafferty

Summary

In a dystopian future where a majority of adults are infertile, pregnancy is a prized act left to the teens. The most genetically attractive teenagers are wooed by fertility agencies and infertile couples, often earning hundreds of thousands of dollars as payment for a genetically superior child. The country is birth-obsessed; suddenly, pregnant teenage girls are America’s best chance of survival.

Enter identical twins Melody and Harmony. Separated at birth, their lives could not be more different. Melody was adopted by professors who spent thousands of dollars and countless hours perfecting her – she is now one of the hottest sought-after birth mothers. Harmony was adopted by a family in a small religious community, who reject the wordly idea of “pregging for profit.” When Harmony learns that she has a sister involved in the pregnancy business, she is determined to save her from her choices.

This fascinating novel highlights an interesting dichotomy in how we see birth, pregnancy, and religion.

heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

Bumped is primarily a story about friendship and sisterhood, but the romance is pretty fun too. Both Melody and Harmony have romantic interests, one of which was kind of obvious and the other refreshingly surprising. I’m excited to read the next installation of the Bumped series to see how the romance develops.

FRosieeminist Score: Good Effort  

In Bumped, we find ourselves in a future where some teenagers are giving birth for profit, and some rejecting the notion completely. While you can’t quite compare this to the so-called “Mommy Wars”, there is definitely some interesting implications of this in the new world. It really makes you consider how feminism, religion, and pregnancy could manifest itself in the not-so-distant future.

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Diversity Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

On one hand, this book isn’t particularly diverse. That being said, this future world is creepy in part because of the lack of diversity and the premium paid for European-princess looks.

wow icon Awesome Factor: Good Effort 

This book really surprised me. The premise is really interesting, and while it was definitely written for teenagers, it was very thought-provoking. I’m looking forward to reading Thumped next.


Favorite Character

Harmony. You have to love a girl with her attitude, determination.

Favorite Line

“A condom” I shriek, my voice echoing around the room.

Zen clamps his hand over my mouth, “Are you trying to get me arrested”.

.. Because there’s nothing worse than preventing teen pregnancy, right?

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes. This is a fantastic, quick read that leaves you thinking about the future of our society. I highly recommend it.  

Fun Author Fact

According to her website, Megan McCafferty lives in Princeton, New Jersey, where Bumped takes place. As a fellow Jerseyan, I’d only ask that she include Wawa in her next book.

Read This Next
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret AtwoodBumped reminded me of a teenage version of the classic The Handmaid’s Tale.

Post Author: Anisha

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

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Book Discussion: Beneath My Mother’s Feet

Beneath My Mother’s Feet by Amjed Qamar

Summary3124412

After her brother leaves the family and her father is injured at work, Nazia finds a lot of the responsibility to care for her family falls on her shoulders. Her mother does what she believes is necessary to support her three children, pulling Nazia from school and becoming a maid for several women in the city’s rich neighborhood. As things with her father deteriorate, Nazia must navigate friendships, social barriers, and the line between right and wrong to decide what kind of life she will make for herself – while continuing to honor her beliefs.

heart

Romance Score – Not A Bit

Nazia has long known she is destined to marry her cousin. The wedding becomes imperative once the family’s situation worsens, but her mother’s decisions put the pairing in jeopardy. Nazia’s feelings toward her future husband are ambivalent at best and, once she meets him, even less positive. It is not the idea of an arranged marriage, but the economic and family pressure coupled with the lack of interest Nazia has toward her betrothed that drop the score.

RosieFeminist Score – A+ Success

Without spoilers, I can say that Nazia makes decisions about her life for herself, choosing the path that will make her happy and, ultimately, probably will enable her to help her family even more. Her mother is also a pretty awesome figure, doing what she believes is right for her children even when it means suffering indignities and abuse from her employers/life. This book highlights the various situations of women in Pakistan without making it an “oh, look at the poor foreign women” story (more on this below). There is some cruelty rained down from the wealthy mistresses, but because Nazia is such a strong, self-respecting character I’m saying it balances out (and that this is more classist behavior than woman-on-woman, although ignoring classism is definitely a big part of the problem with some current feminist movements). This book does fall a bit into the “all men are bad, let’s hate them all” category, but if you remember that this is ONE story of multitude then I can get over it.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score – Good Effort

I’m in two minds about this score – on one hand, it could go to A+ Success because it’s set in Pakistan, has only Pakistani characters who are (mostly?) Muslim and for most of the US audience this would be a huge check in the diversity box. BUT, for Pakistani-Americans or Pakistanis, this would be a book about their culture, families, and homeland with little diversity. Even so, there are wide ranges of economic classes, education level, and employment types in the book, so other types of diversity are on full display if we discount nationality and religion. Plus, since we’re reading in the US, I’m grading based on that and I’m so excited to see a book about Muslims in another country just going about their lives like everyone else – though, it does feel like the author may have a bit of a n ax to grind about women’s treatment in Pakistan.

wow iconAwesome Score – Good Effort

I really liked reading Nazia’s story- I admired her efforts to see the best in people and to do what she can to ease her family’s and friends’ pain. She is strong and resourceful and stubborn, all things I like in my characters. I loved that the book was about a mother and daughter butting heads but still able to show and share their love for each other. Also, I truly felt like this was about Pakistan, with small details capturing every day life while not alienating the (non-Pakistani) reader. It’s a little light on depth and not super original, but I liked Nazia’s spunk enough to give it a higher score. The story is pretty negative towards men and I do worry that it repeats a lot of tropes/stereotypes about life in a Muslim country, but I think that it is also an honest portrayal of what life can be like. I think, if it’s coupled with another Pakistani story that’s completely different, that would go a long way to ameliorating the “one story” problem.


Favorite Character

Maleeha – Nazia’s best friend never gives up hope and is the kind of person we should all be lucky to have in life – she’s willing to tell you the difficult truths, keep your secrets, and rescue you for a day at the beach when you really need it. I liked that we had this image of girls supporting each other through thick and thin (and the contrast with Nazia’s other friend).

Note: I could have gone with Sherzad because he kept his spirits up and was so positive, but since we don’t know what happens to him in the end I couldn’t let myself choose him.

Favorite Line

Fun Author Fact

Her characters will get into her mind and take over, making it hard to concentrate and even sleep (!) until the story is fully developed and ready for writing!

Is this worth a book hangover?

I think you can get your sleep with this one. It’s an interesting story but it doesn’t pull you in like some others. I would also recommend this for younger YA rather than YA/NA readers. I do think it’s important to remember that this is ONE story about ONE girl’s life in Pakistan. Not every girl will have the same life – even Maleeha, a girl from Nazia’s neighborhood and economic class would have a totally different story.

Read this Next

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed (reviewing soon!) or Keeping Corner by Kashmira Sheth.

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

Why We NEED Diverse Books

The reasons society needs diverse books have been laid out many times in the past few months by better sources than us. While not repeating all of those voices, we still want to lay out why diverse books are important and why we focus on diverse, inclusive books on our blog and in our podcasts.

Firstly – and most importantly – mainstream books currently don’t reflect readers. Diverse, inclusive books are sorely lacking. The fact that a gigantic portion of the reading population cannot find books that tell stories about characters like them is a huge problem. Books about white, cis, hetero, able, nominally Christian (WCHAC) people (often male) are still the most populous stories. We know that the WCHAC story isn’t the one most young readers are living, as evidenced by a recent study that majority of students in the United States this year will be minorities. We support diverse books because writers, stories, and characters should reflect readers.

Secondly, diverse books have to fight for publishing, placement, and recognition. There is a lot of statistical proof about this, so we’re not going to rehash the data. The fact that books with diverse themes, characters, stories, and authors have to fight for attention – or even to be published – makes it that much harder for readers to find themselves in books. And future writers from diverse backgrounds struggle to find the role models who may inspire them to push on with their writing. It also means that WCHAC readers are less likely to stumble upon a story about lives and characters different from them.

Thirdly, representation in books matters. Since so few books about diverse characters and stories are published, the stories available for non-WHCAC readers are limited. Historically, if non WHCAC characters were in stories, they were often distorted stereotypes or flat characters that were, at best, difficult to relate to and, at worst, hurtful and damaging. As diverse, inclusive books grow in number and availability, readers will be able to find more stories they can relate to and WHCAC readers will be introduced to different ways of living. Also, as diverse stories multiply, readers are able to find multiple narratives which means books are more inclusive overall. Rather than a single story that is supposed to appease them for all their young adult reading years, they will find many stories to reflect the various paths someone like them may follow (check out our coming post for more about this).

Fourthly, diverse books should be just “books.” While we are using this blog to focus on diverse and inclusive stories, characters, and authors, we don’t have it in our tagline and it’s not emphasized in the about section. As noted at Book Riot, calling a book “diverse” sets it apart and places it in the “other” category. This makes it possible for readers from WHCAC backgrounds to ignore them as “not for me” books. But, ignoring such stories and making them other limits and narrows the perspectives and experiences we interact with – limiting and narrowing our minds. We read and review the books featured on our site because they are well-written, engaging stories with interesting characters – and that should be enough.

As always, we’re not experts and we’re still learning. For more in depth research and sources dedicated to speaking about these topics, we recommend:

American Indians in Children’s Literature

Disability in Kid Lit

Diversify YA

Diversity in YA

Gay YA

We Need Diverse Books campaign

Writing with Color

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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School, Historical

Book Discussion – Like No Other

Like No Other by Una LaMarchelike no other

Summary

Jaxon and Devorah grew up in the same neighborhood in Brooklyn, but may as well have lived on two different planets. Jaxon comes from a tight-knit black family, attends the local public school, and crushes on the cute Indian girl from homeroom. Devorah is from a Hasidic Jew from the Chabad-Lubavitch sect. She lives in a world dictated by rules, but also surrounded by close friends and family. This unlikely pair meet in an elevator on the night of a hurricane, and their romance quickly takes off. But how can teenagers from very different worlds both respect their own values and be together?

Like No Other

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying

I had a hard time with the premise of this story. I know it was necessary for the characters to meet in some unlikely way, but it was hard for me to suspend my belief about their romance. That being said, I liked their friendship a lot.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

loved Devorah – her voice, her internal struggle, and her decisions. It’s important to remember that feminism means making your own choices, even if those are not the choices others (readers) would have made. I want to be friends with someone as caring, thoughtful, and brave as Devorah.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort 

Both characters were multi-faceted and very, very real. I was blown away by the truth of the dialogue. One line, in particular, kept me up at night: “Some people don’t notice anything but an almost-six-foot-tall black man. After Trayvon Martin got shot in Florida, Mom wouldn’t let me wear a hoodie for six months.”  My only concern is the portrayal of Devorah’s family. I understand that Hasidic Jews are very strict, but I think there were some stereotypes introduced – including the idea that they will resort to violence to protect their traditions.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

Overall, the story was interesting and I loved all of the internal dialogue. We need more stories with unique voices, and this certainly is one of them.


Favorite Character

Devorah – Her internal struggle between her family and her outside life was really interesting. I really liked that she wasn’t just a rebel – she made rational choices about what she wanted with her life in her particular circumstances.

Favorite Line

“Chabad-Lubavitch is one Hasidic sect” I say. “There are many”. And then – because I can’t resist – I add, “What, we all look the same to you?”

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes. The plot is fast-moving and the dialogue compelling. Definitely check this book out. 

Fun Author Fact

Una LaMarche’s blog has an awesome name: The Sassy Curmudgeon

Read this next:

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Post Author: Anisha

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

1 Comment

Filed under Contemporary, High School, Romance