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.


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 Crossover – Kwame Alexander

Action, Award Nominee, diversity in YA, families, Young Readers

Written in verse, but reads more like a rap at times.  It is very rhythmic, fast, entertaining.  I also decided within three pages (poems) that I was going to buy this for the library. Josh Bell loves basketball and is a great player.  This combines sports and poetry.  I love a combination.

Because the narration is told through poetry, this is a fast read, but it’s also conversation and flows well.  Boys who love sports books, which are most of my 7th graders, would probably give this a chance since it reads conversationally and not as a deep, lyrical poem, one in which they’d need to dissect.  Fonts change, letters alternate between capitalization based on emphasis, and some pages have very few words – all make this very visually pleasing and entertaining.

The story itself is a basic one – teenage boy, great at basketball, the son of an professional basketball player, meeting girls, etc.  There’s basic friendships, family discussions, and the focus on the game.  In between poems that move the plot along are “Basketball Rules” which all offer advice for the game that can be interpreted as advice on life.  They are goals for both becoming a better player and a better person.

My favorite line from his dad was, “Always shoot for the sun and you will shine” after, as 3 year-olds, they each shot a ball and they made it into the net.

The story continues focused on basketball and girlfriends, but when Josh and Jordan’s dad has a health scare even basketball can’t make it all better.

“Basketball Rule #10”

A lose is inevitable,

like snow in winter.

True champions


to dance


the storm.”

This is a great book for boys, reluctant readers, anyone trying to get kids to like poetry, and with a sad, but honest and hopeful ending.

Newbery Medal (2015, Coretta Scott King Award for Author Honor (2015), Charlotte Huck Honor Book (2015), Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee (2016)