Book Reviews Temporarily Stopping

annual list, Award Nominee, Year in Review

In case anyone actually looks at this besides me –

I am on an ALA Committee for Best Fiction Young Adult and am reading a book about every 2-3 days.  In doing so I, along with 14 other members nationwide, will choose the best young adult fiction for this year.  I am not allowed to publicly voice my opinion on books considered or books nominated.  At the end of this term, I will have over 150 book reviews, but right now I can’t post them publicly.

If you are interested in what has been nominated so far by the committee members, visit the Young Adult Library Service’s (YALSA) webpage.

So while it looks like I’m on hiatus, I am not on a break from reading – I am just deep into secret award committee reading.

Ronit & Jamil – Pamela L. Laskin

alternating narration, biracial couple, diversity in YA, families, love, Middle Grade Romance, novel in verse

Take Romeo and Juliet and put it in current times with the Israeli and Palestine conflict and we have Ronit & Jamil.  A smart Israeli girl and a smart Palestinian boy, both raised by doctors who meet in passing assisting their fathers at a hospital.  Thus begins this little (178 paged pocket sized) universal love story.

This story reads quickly and even quotes a few lines from Shakespeare’s work.  What is unique in this modern retelling is that communication not only occurs via text messages, but that Ronit and Jamil, unlike Juliet and Romeo, know the entire time they are going against family rules and cultural laws.  In fact, knowing how their relationship would be both a disgrace and punishable, makes them value their time together even more than the immature star-crossed-lovers.  The forbidden love is similar, as it has probably occurred throughout time, but these passages make it modern in a way the reader – even if unfamiliar with the Palestine and Israeli struggle – will follow.

Throughout the alternative narration, Ronit and Jamil have similarities with their family lives and their own interests, as seen in the passages “What I love” and “What I hate”.  The overall tone is one of finding love and while being afraid of rules, family, and law, holding onto that love through a time of war; finding joy and truth when it contradicts what you were led to believe.  Ronit and Jamil eventually must face their reality and which they will chose: family or love.

American Street – Ibi Zoboi

death, diversity in YA, families, Female Leads, gay characters

Fabiola Toussaint and her mother are traveling from Haiti to America to join her aunt and cousins, but when Fabiola’s mother is held back by customs, Fabiola joins her cousins and aunt alone.  In Detroit, a city much different that Haiti, Fabiola tries to remember her mother’s guidance in a city where everything is different, her cousins act older than they should, and a mysterious stranger seems to be sending Fabiola messages.

She wants to gain her mother’s freedom, but without money or knowing how to find her once she’s been sent to New Jersey, Fabiola must turn to her cousins and friends in this new city.  Among them is Kasim, the cute boy who seems to prefer Fabiola’s natural hair and Haitian accent over the makeover and slang her cousins give and teach.  Only when a detective approaches Fabiola to assist them in a previous crime and offer to help her with the immigration process for her mother must Fabiola decide which family is more important: the life with her mother or the new love and family she has found with her cousins and Kasim.

It is often a difficult balance in trying to portray a group of people without falling into stereotypical traps in language or behavior, but this is a nice balance offered by Zoboi.  Fab’s cousins are mostly American in behavior and pretend to be strong, but when faced with challenges and fear, they fall into each other with the vulnerability that is only protected in the safely of siblings.  Stereotypes and strengths are gone and we see four young females from a different country trying to survive in a cruel world when they get swept up in greed and a new way of survival.

Fabiola’s experience with family, neighborhood criminals, her Haitian culture, and the need of her mother still detained by Immigration officials makes for a unique story of life in America, but be warned – drugs, crime, sex, death, and cussing.  Still, Fabiola (as well as some other finely created female characters) is smart, strong, and brave.  This is a new story, a strong story, and one worth sharing.

The Sun Is Also A Star – Nicola Yoon

alternating narration, diversity in YA, families, love, Safe Bets

“Do you have idea what it’s like not to fit in anywhere?”  For our characters, they all do.

Natasha is Jamaican and came to America as a child with her family.  Daniel’s family is Korean, but he was born in America.  Both struggle with living in America as outsiders.  For her it’s due to the location of her birth and for him it’s trying to learn how to be both American and Korean.  Life for Natasha is worse than trying to live the American life, she is trying to stay in America.  Natasha’s family is to be deported – tonight – when the story begins.  As a senior in high school who only knows of her life in Brooklyn, Natasha has gone from looking at colleges and planning prom to trying to find a way to remain.

This is more than a YA “meeting a stranger-turned-romance” tale, it shows the depth of families, the struggles when a teenager takes on parental roles, but what makes this second novel by Yoon amazing, and hold up to Everything, Everything is the way she writes of the side characters to show everyone has a story and how lives are connected.  This novel has so much enjoyment to offer from the budding friendship/romance of Natasha and Daniel to the way they spend a day when one is blessed with the freedom of teenagers out of school for a day as they answer questions and experience different parts of Brooklyn and New York City.  Natasha is strong and believes in science.  She values facts over emotion.  When she meets Daniel, who believes in emotions, dreams, poetry, and fate, at first it’s with amusement, but as the day continues, they both begin to understand their view of the world isn’t the only way to view it at all.

The story of these two and their immigration background, family cultures, and day together is a great story on its own, but what I appreciate of this story is that we learn about side characters in alternating narrations, yet characters who seem to have no connection somehow affect each other’s lives.  A side character story line from the security guard to an immigration lawyer having an affair show how people are connected. Yoon also manages to make us see people and circumstances from another view.  As the title suggests, the sun is more than the sun. In a story focused on people coming into a country seeking a home, the real story is the humanity between people – no matter where they are from.

 


Click here for an interview with Nicola Yoon

Three Dark Crowns – Kendare Blake (Three Dark Crowns #1)

Action, alternating narration, families, Fantasy, Female Leads, Series

The first of the series with the same title, the story begins with three queen sister (triplets) each facing the ceremony on their 16th birthday in which will not only validate their power, but will begin the time period where they should – and are expected to – kill the other sisters so she may be the true queen.

Each generation produces triplet sisters, all holding different magical abilities.   Mirabella can control the elements, Kat (Katherine) is a poisoner and can ingest any poisons and survive, and Arsinoe is a naturalist who can control all things in nature.  Each sister remembers a time before separated from her sisters, a time in which sister’s love was strong.  Only now, each has advisers who not only prepare their queen  for the fight ahead, but encourage murder for their queen’s survival.

As for the sisters, their ambition is only challenged with the memory of sisterhood.  With suitors approaching all three girls as if the prize is marriage, they learn power is both isolating and, at times, unwanted.  Each sister wants to be Queen, but the only way to become Queen is to eventually kill the other two sisters during the Ascension year.  Each sister also has her strengths and weaknesses whether it is confidence, skill, or beauty. As suitors and servants provide allies and comfort (and many bears play a part), Mirabella, Kat, and Arsinoe also learn that they can be enemies too.

This story has lots of fantasy elements and some action, but at times I found it difficult to remember which sister was friends with other side characters and even how to balance the lives of the side characters when learning of their parentage.  One great aspect is the growth they face by the end of this installment: one who was weak is strong, one who was confident is shaken, and one who felt powerless has a newfound power.  Once I could follow who was supporting which sister, the night of the reunion was soon and the Quickening to begin the year of ‘try to kill your sisters so that you can be Queen’ was happening.  So a bit confusing at first, but with some solid action at the end – and a cliffhanger of course!


one

September 2017

This Land Is Our Land: A History of American Immigration -Linda Barrett Osborne

Award Nominee, nonfiction

In This Land Is Our Land the topic of immigration is covered from Jamestown to today.  Osborne does a clear job in defining terms, organizing chapters both chronologically and by groups of people, and balances information and images in an expert fashion to keep attention on the book without growing bored with one set topic or group of people.  Each group of people are addressed respectfully, showing value in both cultures as well as the struggles immigrants had upon arrival.  She clearly states how the true “Americans” were the Native Americans on this land before English settlers and uses her own family ancestry to show the reader that all of us here today came to be because our ancestors were immigrants.  She shows the struggles immigrants faced, but also mentions how they have helped the country throughout history, such as serving in the American Civil War, become successful elected officials, assisting in factories, and helping the economy.

Osborne also addresses the way nativists and government officials tried to decrease the number of immigrants entering the country through such early measures in the 1900s as mandating a “literacy test” as well as enforcing an annual quota of immigrants through Ellis Island each year.  She shows how laws aimed at preserving a false idea of “America” were actually tools of prejudice, limiting not only the number of immigrants that could enter, but selecting which groups were allowed at all (1924 Immigration Act).  Other unfair treatments, such as not allowing Asian immigrants to ever become citizens are mentioned as well.

She discusses the different groups and how racism and prejudice was shown to each group by the nativists who believed they were the true Americans. Thus, showing the long voyage to America was not where the troubles and difficulties ended for those seeking more opportunity or a better life.  Immigrants faced challenges not only due to being from a different country, but also religious prejudice, and limitations on housing and opportunity.  The challenge on keeping one’s culture and heritage while trying to live in a better environment and country is seen throughout This Land Is Our Land and leaves a lasting impact.

Osborne writes in the introduction how she wants this book to be a conversation starter on the broader topic of immigration and with her research and her respect given to this country’s past, I believe it is the perfect conversation starter to be available to children and teens in class, in the library, or at home.  It’s organized beautifully with many primary resources, and while the research is great, I find the gem of this book is the inclusion of all the groups of people that shaped the America we have today: Germans, Irish, Italians, Jews, people from Eastern European, Asia, Latin America.  She offers a special chapter on refugees and how seeking safety is different than simply immigrating.

Author notes, bibliography, citations, and index are included.

My interview with Linda Barrett Osborne for The Hub is coming soon!

Going Rogue (Also Known As #2) – Robin Benway

Action, Best "best friends", families, Female Leads, love, Middle Grade Romance, Safe Bets, Series, spies, Young Readers

In this second novel of the Also Known As series focused on the average family out the outside, super spies on the inside, we find 16-year-old Maggie in a good place.  She still loves living in New York, her best friend Roux, and her boyfriend Jesse.  She has great parents (spies) and a friend-uncle (also a spy) and her skills at opening safes are amazingly honed.

……. and of course that can’t last…….

Soon her parents are facing false accusations of stealing and Maggie must face her next challenge without them.  Don’t worry for our girl though, she’s a quick thinker and has a new team to help her.  This tale takes us to Paris, a new twist with the Collective, and also the typical high school challenges that Maggie, Roux, and Jesse face – as well as the secret world that awaits our favorite spy family.  Maggie is a little more experienced than the first novel and faces more grown up issues once she is on her own.  However, she is still a character with heart who puts the protection of her friends and family above her own.

It’s a safe series that keeps the reader’s attention.  Roux is, thankfully, a voice of realism and sarcasm and even she finds some happiness and acceptance in this sequel.  The intrigue continues not only throughout this book, but enough that I will continue with the series (as soon as there is word on Book #3, which there isn’t as of today).  It’s funny, smart, loyal, and adds adventure and mystery.

A Time to Dane – Padma Venkatraman

diversity in YA, novel in verse, religious

Veda is a trained prodigy in bharatanatyam dance.  In India, she is well respected as a skilled dancer.  When a bus accident results in the partial amputation of her leg, she not only loses the ability to dance, but also her connection to the story of the dance and its significance to her culture.

Trying to overcome the unfairness of the accident is only part of her struggle, she must learn that her identity as a dancer must change or disappear altogether.  Knowing dance is in her heart, she finds strength to not only begin dancing using her prosthetic leg, but to begin many aspects of her life again.  Helping her along is her lovely grandmother who has supported Veda in dance and life and Jim, the American doctor who fixes and teaches Veda how to use her new leg.  Veda is strong and resilient and when her dance teacher refuses to continue teaching her, she finds another dance teacher who isn’t put off by her disability.  In fact, it’s at this new studio where she meets Govinda, a young dancer and dance teacher, who treats Veda as an artist.

This is a story about more than dance, but the spirituality of dance cannot be ignored.  It’s as important to the story as any character.  This is a beautiful novel about healing the mind, body, and spirit.

Everywhere in Everything

Everywhere, in everything, I used to hear music.                                                                        …

in the scents of cumin, coriander, and red chili.                                                                   Wrap my arms around Paati’s plush body.                                                                                   At night I’d hear music                                                                                                                         in the buzz of hungry mosquitoes                                                                                           swarming outside my mosquito net, …

In the grey-green hospital room                                                                                                 silence                                                                                                                                         stretches.                                                                                                                                      (42-43)

The Way We Fall (Fallen World, 1) -Megan Crewe

Climate Fiction, death, diversity in YA, families, Series

Kaelyn narrates a virus outbreak through her journal entries intended for her former best friend.  Little did she realize beginning a journal-apology would act as a first hand account to an illness that soon begins killing off her friends and neighbors.

What starts with an itch and a cough leads to a hyper-hallucinating fever, with the end result being death.  Soon school is cancelled, and Kaelyn remains in her house with her family.  While her dad is one of the island’s doctors, he cannot explain what is happening.  When the government and the World Health Organization comes to town searching for answers, Kaelyn and her neighbors are left in the dark.  Things go from odd to worse with eventual Quarantine status for those left on the island.

Even though her current circumstances seem out of the ordinary, her friendship struggles are quite ordinary for teenagers.  Kaelyn’s family moved away years ago and only recently returned.  She tries to make new friendships, but is haunted by one from the past.  Her friend Leo who after being best friends for a decade, had a falling out, and now Kaelyn wants to make amends – only, this virus is keeping her on the island and him off.

Soon it’s been months, the island is still under quarantine, and more have gotten sick.  The Mainland isn’t helping other than drop offs by helicopter, but with a recent rogue gang taking things by force, the humanity of Kaelyn’s neighbors begins to disappear as would happen as fear and death increase while supplies decrease.  There’s also a light romance, but the overall focus is the disease and the island.

Being the beginning of a series, I grew tired of it expecting more action and story line progression. I’m a bit curious how the series moves forward once our characters get off of the island (which is the plot of the second), so I may finish this series eventually.


A great science/virus – apocalyptic plot like Life As We Knew It, The Living, Sweet, and H2O and other ClyFi or science conspiracy books.


Series Continues: