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.

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

Salt to the Sea – Ruta Sepetys

alternating narration, Books Worth Crying Over, death, diversity in YA, period pieces

There aren’t a lot of books that the night I finish reading it, I wake and in my groggy state think back to the heartbreaking parts or dialogue.  I mean, Come On Ruta Sepetys! This is not only based on a true story, but has amazing characters – brave, loyal, courageous, kind.  And Emilia – a “warrior” (as Florian eventually calls her) for sure.   Read it.  Trust Me. Tears will flow, but they are worth it.

In 1945, thousands of refugees were trying to flee Germany.  Joana, a Lithuanian, is hunted by guilt.  Florian is Prussian has a plan he believes fate will hunt him or lead him to success.  Emilia who is Polish is living in shame and Alfred, the German sailor, is hunted by fear and a strange view of self-importance.   As these people come together, either trying to flee or trying to survive, each faces their fears and personal dangers.

This is the story of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff at the end of WWII when 10,000 people were boarded on the cruiser [built for 1,463 passengers] to evacuate East Prussia.  Once at sea, a soviet submarine shot it with torpedoes and it sank, killing over 9,343 people.  It is the deadliest maritime disaster in history.  Sepetys writes of these hidden histories so that their stories are told and she does it so beautifully and respectfully.

I am still thinking of these characters 24 hours after completing the novel.  War brings about horrible situations, especially to the children, which is shown through these characters as well as the thousands of refugees our group encounters along the roads, walking across frozen bodies of water, and later on the ship which seems a savior, but ends up killing thousands.  Such wonderfully wise passages from The Poet, the elderly shoe maker who cares for Klaus, the 6 year old orphan, who still manages to find good in the world even as death surrounds all of them.  The historic details gained from Sepetys’ research are heartbreaking and shocking, especially to the desperate parents and the children cast aside.  The stories of the babies are really the only reason I would say 14 and over.  This was the first time I read all of the author’s notes following the completion of a work of historical fiction.

One of my top favorites for historical fiction, books worth crying over, and overall goodness still being in the world when there appears to be none left.  And that Emilia, quite the selfless warrior.

 

The Midnight Star (The Young Elites #3) – Marie Lu

Action, alternating narration, death, diversity in YA, Fantasy, Favorites, Female Leads, gay characters, Series

Three different groups of people continue to fight for power and their desire to be the one ruler in the final installment following  The Young Elites and The Rose Society.

Adelina is where she wants to be after the first two installments of this trilogy and that is as the White Wolf ruler.  She has reversed all prejudice and killings of the marked (those with powers) and has reversed the hatred she and her people faced and now in pure revenge fashion, aims it towards her former perpetrators.  She, along with her Rose Society of warriors, ensures that all marked (those formerly dubbed the ‘malfettos’) are respected in society. Her anger, and the voices in her head, make her self-conscious, paranoid, and cruel.

A few countries away her sister Violetta’s health is failing and a  prediction given earlier that the Elites will lose their powers and die seems to be coming true.  Violetta is protected by a powerful group of Elites – the same group that used to work with Adelina.  The Daggers know Adelina has gone off the deep end with her quest for revenge. They are another group vying for power.

Then there is Queen Maeve, one of the best female characters since Lady Macbeth, who harbors the two men that she brought back from death – and not with their former humanity.  Enzo, the former Malfetto Prince is still as powerful, but will kill more easily and Maeve must realize that her youngest brother, the one she always protected, is now more harmful than she realized.  Better think twice before bringing people back from the Underworld.  So Maeve, her soldiers, and her half-dead violent men are the third group.

Soon all sides collide in a battle of skill, power, and death.  People are captured by the other side and no one seems safe from each other or from the new threat they all face as marked malfettos, but a larger issue faces the powerful marked leaders: they are losing their powers.  A prophecy that was shared in the second book of the series seems to be coming true and now these strong leaders and enemies must come together for their own survival.  As battles continue, more people die (seriously – it’s like a Game of Thrones season), we wonder who will survive, who will retain power, and who will be the last leader standing. As the Elites travel to find the Gods and into the Underworld in order to learn why their powers lessen, more die on their journey.  This is a conclusion to the series that was focused on power and ruling an empire, but resolves in characters finding forgiveness, peace, love, and loyalty.

All in all after a violent, power hungry series, the Elites all finish mostly happily – if they were lucky enough to survive – and it’s a sweet ending, full circle all the way.

The Incident on the Bridge – Laura McNeal

alternating narration, families, Female Leads

Thisbe was once a studious, if a little shy, high school student.  Not until a summer romance ended did she retreat into herself.  It wasn’t just that the relationship with Clay ended, but how it ended. Then as isolating as first heartbreak often is, Thisbe doesn’t realize the distraction and danger it puts her in as we learn it does on one night on the bridge.  As days go by into Thisbe’s disappearance, her little sister Ted and a new friend in town trying to recover from his own grief pair up to seek the truth concerning Thisbe’s disappearance.

Learning the backstory of Thisbe and Clay’s relationship alternating between the present days that occur after the night Thisbe disappeared, readers are privy to the inside thoughts of many characters, family members who fight for the truth they hope for, school friends who saw Thisbe’s demise, and the police who are trying to piece together different images of the  missing Thisbe.  Then as Thisbe picks up the narration herself, we realize this tale is far more sinister than high school relationships and that her broken heart led to a distracted moment which will change her life forever.

And what about all the people who either passed Thisbe on the bridge or the security officer who looked at her phone to check on her sick baby and missed the incident on the bridge?  This is a great telling of how we all interact and how people affect one another sort of like Gone Girl with a mystery to unwind.  As characters revisit conversations they had with Thisbe, everyone reflects on how people affect one another.  Thisbe herself realizes that her fixation on Clay and her own downward spiraling isolation wasn’t just an inward sulking, but a distraction which led to her not thinking clearly and over all abduction.

This is a shared narrative that is full of action, but more importantly it shows how we all connect and how, in a state of emergency, people can come together despite their guilt, innocence, or confusion.  There is a common goal and in this case it is to find Thisbe.

The Geography of You and Me – Jennifer E. Smith

alternating narration, families, Female Leads, love, Middle Grade Romance, Safe Bets, Young Readers

geo

Ah, teens with opposite financial backgrounds meet in a blackout in NYC.  The financial formula that Nicholas Sparks loves, but written (pretty well) for teenagers.  How will these opposites attract?  Predictable, but nicely written with good development and a back-and-forth dialogue set for movies. Sort of witty, fast talking like John Green’s dialogue (but not as witty, or fast).  There’s a spark between Lucy and Owen obvious from the beginning, which is well developed within the first few chapters.

This book is pretty adorable.  Lucy and Owen aren’t the typical teenagers, and they don’t have the typical dialogue, but both seem more mature than any 16 or 17 year old actually would be (and both wander NYC alone more than any actual teenager would).  As they talk of their plans to go – somewhere, anywhere, everywhere, and nowhere they differ in views, but have the same need for a location connection – or perhaps a personal connection that they find with each other.

The book is broken up into five parts using the themes Lucy and Owen discuss while trapped in the elevator – to be Here, There, Everywhere, and Somewhere  — then finally Home. As they move and travel they still stay in touch and often think of one another.  A little dreamy, a little romantic, very teenage girl to stay focused on a dream and “what if”.

The rest of the story focuses around Lucy’s workaholic, uninvolved parents and Owen’s grieving, unemployed (but trying to remain upbeat) father.  Lucy’s family moves for work and Owen’s family travels across the country searching for a new sense of happiness since the death of his mother. As Lucy and Owen live in separate corners of the world, they are still drawn to the thought of the other. Unable to let the thought go, they both still question the “somewhere, anywhere, everywhere” thought of where is the location they truly belong.  Where is “Home”.

“Home”  is in the final portion of the story.  When not only they find happiness in their lives, but also reunite.

Its development builds throughout the middle portions to where you are reading it, picking up pace, and waiting for Lucy and Owen to reunite.  Well done, well written, and enjoyable. A happy ending not only for the romantics, but also for Owen’s grieving heart and Lucy’s need for a family.

So much adorableness.  Safe for all ages, especially those with wanderlust.