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Book Chat: All American Boys


25657130All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brenden Kiely

Summary

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


Favorite Character

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

Favorite Line

This book has so much we need to hear.

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

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

Fun Author Fact

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

Is this worth a book hangover?

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

Read These Next

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

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Discussion: 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: 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.

diversity people circle icon

Diversity Score: Good Effort

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

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

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort

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


Favorite Character

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

Favorite Line

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

Fun Author Fact

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

Is this worth a book hangover?

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

Read These Next

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

Post Author: Jess

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

Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Filed under Adventure, Contemporary, High School, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Book Discussion: Boy in the Black Suit

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

Summary

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

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

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

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

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

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

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

wow iconAwesome Factor: A+ Success

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


Favorite Character

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

Favorite Line

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

Oh Matt, I feel for you so much.

Is this worth a book hangover?

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

Fun Author Fact

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

Read This Next

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

Post Author

1202112022

Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Discussion: When I was the Greatest

When I was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds

Summary:

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

heart Romance Score: You’re Trying

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

RosieFeminist Score: You’re Trying?

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

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: A+ Success

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

wow iconAwesome Factor: A+ Success

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


Favorite Character

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

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

Favorite Line

There were several great lines:

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

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

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

Is this worth a book hangover?

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

Post Author

1202112022

Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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