Tag Archives For: YA

I Have the Right To
21 Jun, 2019

I Have the Right To

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading I Have the Right To I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor's Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope by Chessy Prout, Jenn Abelson
on March 6, 2018
Pages: 416
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs, Young Adult
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

A young survivor tells her searing, visceral story of sexual assault, justice, and healing in this gutwrenching memoir.

The numbers are staggering: nearly one in five girls ages fourteen to seventeen have been the victim of a sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. This is the true story of one of those girls.

In 2014, Chessy Prout was a freshman at St. Paul’s School, a prestigious boarding school in New Hampshire, when a senior boy sexually assaulted her as part of a ritualized game of conquest. Chessy bravely reported her assault to the police and testified against her attacker in court. Then, in the face of unexpected backlash from her once-trusted school community, she shed her anonymity to help other survivors find their voice.

This memoir is more than an account of a horrific event. It takes a magnifying glass to the institutions that turn a blind eye to such behavior and a society that blames victims rather than perpetrators. Chessy’s story offers real, powerful solutions to upend rape culture as we know it today. Prepare to be inspired by this remarkable young woman and her story of survival, advocacy, and hope in the face of unspeakable trauma.

Goodreads

I heard of this story last week in a news article about her rapist seeking a new trial.  In the article it mentioned her by name which is not usual for a sexual assault case and especially one where the person was a minor.  Later in the article it said that she had gone public to bring awareness to her case so I was interested in reading the book.

Don’t pick this one up unless you are in the head space to get good and angry.  At this boarding school it was pretty much considered normal for the girls to be assaulted.  They were taught during orientation that if they needed to discuss anything with an adult that they should always say it was a hypothetical situation.  This was specifically to get the faculty around the mandatory reporting that would be required if they knew that a crime had taken place.  Sexual conquests were tracked publicly.  This was done so openly that a guide to the terminology used was published in the school newspaper. 

Chessy’s assault took place right before graduation weekend when she was a freshman.  She knew she was basically being hunted but he offered to take her to a forbidden location and she wanted to get a good Instagram picture there.  She didn’t think he would do anything to her.  She was 15 and stupid.  She admits this. 

Even after the rape she kept trying to keep up a good front even to the point of not trying to upset her rapist.  It took her a long time to realize that this wasn’t her fault.  The story of how she and her family were ostracized from the community once she went to the police is maddening. 

She pointed out a lot of ways that the system is stacked against survivors.  One that I hadn’t thought of was regarding news coverage.  Her rapist was 18.  He was always described as something like, “Prep school athlete so and so….” with a nice picture while she was “a 15 year old accuser”.  The stories were always about him because she was a minor and a rape victim so they wouldn’t publish her name.  That’s good most of the time but it lead to sympathetic coverage for him.  That’s one of the reasons that she came out publicly.  She was able to put a face to her story.

Another aspect of this story is the reaction of the school.  All of these activities were protected by the school under the guise of “tradition.”  Alumni paid for her rapist’s lawyer to defend the reputation of the school.  How do you make a school a safe place if no one cares?

 

With The Fire on High
04 Jun, 2019

With The Fire on High

/ posted in: Book ReviewFoodies ReadReading With The Fire on High With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
on May 7, 2019
Pages: 400
Genres: Young Adult
Published by HarperTeen
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Setting: Pennsylvania

With her daughter to care for and her abuela to help support, high school senior Emoni Santiago has to make the tough decisions, and do what must be done. The one place she can let her responsibilities go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness. Still, she knows she doesn’t have enough time for her school’s new culinary arts class, doesn’t have the money for the class’s trip to Spain — and shouldn’t still be dreaming of someday working in a real kitchen. But even with all the rules she has for her life — and all the rules everyone expects her to play by — once Emoni starts cooking, her only real choice is to let her talent break free.

Goodreads

This is the follow up to Elizabeth Acevedo’s extraordinary debut, The Poet X.  I was thrilled to see that this book was coming out and extra excited to see that the story was about food.

Emoni is a senior in high school who loves to cook.  She wants to go to culinary school, which wouldn’t normally be a problem except that Emoni got pregnant as a freshman and now has a daughter to raise.  That limits her choices because she needs to work to support herself and her daughter. When she gets a chance to be in a culinary program at school she has to decide if she is able to fit it into her life.

Emoni is a character who I haven’t read often.  Usually stories with teen mothers tell the story of the pregnancy.  This is several years later when she is trying to juggle school, work, and a child.  It doesn’t make any of these seem easy or glamorous.  She has problems with the father of the child and his parents. She works when her classmates only have school to worry about. She knows that classmates make assumptions about anyone who found herself in her situation.  She’s pushing through and ignoring what anyone else thinks.

Emoni was raised by her abuela after her mother died and her father moved back to Puerto Rico.  I loved Abuela.  She is a woman who keeps getting pulled back into child rearing when she is ready to live an independent life.  First her son all but abandoned his daughter on her doorstep and then when she gets her granddaughter mostly raised, her granddaughter gets pregnant and now Abuela needs to help raise her great-grandchild.  I found her very realistic.  She’s doing what she has to do to make her family work but she’s starting to spread her own wings too as Emoni gets ready to graduate. 

Even if YA isn’t normally your cup of tea, I’d encourage you to pick up Elizabeth Acevedo’s books.  They are powerful. 

Internment
27 Mar, 2019

Internment

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Internment Internment by Samira Ahmed
on March 19, 2019
Pages: 386
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Atom
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: United States

Rebellions are built on hope.

Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.

With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp's Director and his guards.

Heart-racing and emotional, Internment challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today.

Goodreads

I was really looking forward to reading this book.  I preordered it as soon as I heard about it.  I was interested in a book about Muslim internment from a Muslim author.

The book starts out well.  She captures the fear and suspicion rampant in the main characters community.  She makes a logical case for how the United States would start to round up Muslims.  The early scene where the family is taken out of their house is very realistic and because of that it is very scary.

After they get to the internment camp though, the whole story starts to fall apart.  I think a lot of the problem in my reading of this is that this is a YA book that is trying to celebrate the power of young people to make a difference.  I understand that because of the category it is going to be focused more on action than character development but these characters are particularly weak.   The main character:

  • Has a boyfriend who she loves so very, very much that she can’t think about anything else
  • Except when she is super angry and has ALL THE FEELINGS and is angry at everyone
  • Somehow she is only one in the camp who comes up with ideas to do something

YA books can tell stories of teenage bravery well.  The Hunger Games comes to mind.  This one just doesn’t ever come together.

It really annoyed me that this book painted all the Muslim adults as passive and weak and unwilling to protest.  They were just sitting around waiting to be rallied to action by a teenager?  (I decided to read that as the self-centeredness of a child who couldn’t see what was going on around her.  I’m sure that is not the reading that the author meant but it kept me from hissing at the page when I was reading.)

The villain of the story is an absolute joke.  He reads like a cartoon character.  He is the director of the camp and he stomps around and threatens people until his face turns colors.  Apparently just the sight of the main character makes him sputter and rage and be unable to form coherent thoughts.  In reality the director of a camp like this would more likely be a stone-cold sadist and/or a very efficient bureaucrat who wouldn’t be the least bit flustered by a whiny teenager.

***SPOILERS *** For all his rage every time he sees her he never really does anything about her.  The nastiest he gets is hitting her.  He hides her parents from her for a bit but he gives them back almost immediately when he is confronted.  Also there is almost unlimited surveillance but he never seems to notice any of the guards helping her all the time?  It is explained by the fact that he trusts the guards.  Yeah, not buying it.

I did like the fact that people protesting outside the camp and acting as observers of what was going on inside the camp was a big part of the story.  I think that in these scenarios that will be a major part of the resistance.  I did like some of the resistance ideas from inside the camp, like fasting to protest in front of visitors as well.

Overall, I think this was a wasted opportunity to tell a really important story.  If you want to read a book on a similar subject that I think did a great job with the storyline, pick up Ink. 

InkInk by Sabrina Vourvoulias
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was scarily prescient when it was published a few years ago.  It was just rereleased because events in the U.S. seem to be moving along just like she predicted. 

On The Come Up
12 Feb, 2019

On The Come Up

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading On The Come Up On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
on February 5, 2019
Pages: 464
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Balzer + Bray
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.

On the Come Up is Angie Thomas’s homage to hip-hop, the art that sparked her passion for storytelling and continues to inspire her to this day. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; of the struggle to become who you are and not who everyone expects you to be; and of the desperate realities of poor and working-class black families.

Goodreads

I’ve been mildly worried about this book.  Second books are always hard but how do you follow up a phenomenon like The Hate U Give?  I didn’t want to hear a lot of snide talk about, “It’s good but it isn’t The Hate U Give.”  I was lucky enough to be able to get a copy from the library on release day.  I stayed up past my bedtime to read it all in one sitting.  Good sign.  What do I think?

It’s good but it isn’t The Hate U Give.

The good thing is that it isn’t trying to be.  This is a much smaller, more personal story.  It is set in Garden Heights a year after the events in THUG.  It is referenced a few times as ‘when that kid got killed last year’.  They are still dealing with increased police presence in the neighborhood that she says is meant to look friendly but really means that they are being watched.

Bri is the younger child of an up and coming rapper who was killed by a gang outside her house.  Her mother got addicted to drugs following the murder.  Bri and her older brother Trey lived with her father’s parents until her mother got clean.  Their grandmother and mother still have a very contentious relationship because of this. Trey just graduated from college but can’t find a job in his field and is home working at a pizza place.

Bri’s mom loses her job as a church secretary because the church can’t afford to fix the damage from the riots a year ago and pay her too.  Their financial situation was precarious before but now they need to decide which bills to pay.  They even have to accept from help from Aunt Pooh, a gang member and drug dealer.  Bri decides she needs to start making money from her music to help out.

She writes a song called On The Come Up.  It references an incident where Bri got thrown on the ground by some security guards at school.  She writes that no matter what she is actually doing she is perceived as a thug and as a gang member who is selling drugs and starting fights.  The song is catchy and gets popular in the neighborhood.  The problem is that the catchy parts that people sing along with are all about guns and being a gang member.  People miss the “I’m not like this but people think it” beginning part.  “Claiming to be into gang life” causes even more problems for Bri because that’s not her and she doesn’t know how to get out of the trouble it is causing.  People are even using the song to justify what the security guards did at school.  “See, she was a gang member..”

Perception vs reality is the major theme here

  • When Bri gets publicly angry that people are misinterpreting her song and making assumptions about her, she gets praised by her manager for perfectly “playing the role of a ghetto hood rat”.
  • Aunt Pooh is a major supportive part of Bri’s life but she is also a gang member who will disappear for days at a time to avenge some slight from another gang leaving people wondering if she is alive or dead.
  • As a female rapper, it is assumed that Bri has someone writing her words for her instead of her speaking for herself.

I love all the interactions in this book.  They feel so real.  You can feel the bitterness and resentment between her mother and grandmother.  I love the descriptions of church services.  It is like a full contact sport of what you say vs what you actually mean. 

This gets deep into what it is like day to day to be very financially insecure.  Which bill gets paid?  How long can you go with heat or electric?  What is it like to have to go to a food giveaway at Christmas?  Bri’s mom was taking college classes but she can’t do that and be eligible for food stamps so she has to drop out.  That puts her even farther away from getting a better job to help out their situation. 

About Angie Thomas

“Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She can also still rap if needed. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Meyers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, was acquired by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in a 13-house auction and will be published in spring 2017. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 with George Tillman attached to direct and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg set to star.”   from Goodreads

16 May, 2018

Dread Nation

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Dread Nation Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
on April 3rd 2018
Pages: 455
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Balzer + Bray
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

Goodreads

When  the bodies of the dead come back and attack people, the fighting in the Civil War stops. What doesn’t stop is the racism that was inherent in the United States. Now, 20 years after the shamblers first appeared, black children are taken and trained for combat duty.

The system replicates the hierarchy of slavery.  “Better” girls are trained in elite schools to be bodyguards to wealthy white women. They guard them from shamblers and serve as chaperones as the white ladies socialize.  Other girls end up working in the fields clearing shamblers as they approach towns.  Those people don’t have a long life span.

For me the story got most interesting when Jane and some companions are sent west to a planned community run by a pastor and his son, the sheriff.  Everything is set up for the safety and protection of white families but it is all run on the forced labor of black people.  The white overseers are so terrified of their black charges that they deliberately undermine their ability to fight shamblers by not giving them adequate weapons thus weakening the defenses of the whole town.  They won’t listen to the advice and expertise of black women until it is literally life or death.

This book didn’t interest me as a zombie/horror story.  It was at its best when showing off the absurdities of racism.  From phrenology to tell who is white and who is black to medical experimentation on unwilling black people to unequal distribution of assets this book highlights many aspects of systemic racism by placing them in a fantasy setting where people should be more interested in working together for survival than upholding an arbitrary hierarchy.

08 Mar, 2018

American Panda

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading American Panda American Panda by Gloria Chao
on February 6th 2018
Pages: 311
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Simon Pulse
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

An incisive, laugh-out-loud contemporary debut about a Taiwanese-American teen whose parents want her to be a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer despite her squeamishness with germs and crush on a Japanese classmate.
At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents' master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.
With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can't bring herself to tell them the truth--that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.
But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

Goodreads

This book is so good!  

Conflict between immigrant Asian parents and their American-born kids is a staple in a lot of books.  What I appreciated about this book is that it took a deeper look at the people involved to figure out their motivations.  Mei is trying to be the perfect daughter because she has seen real world consequences of disobedience.  Her brother was cut out of the family years earlier for dating a woman with some health issues that may impact her fertility.  His parents would not accept a potential daughter in law who might not produce grandchildren.  Mei is raised on stories of a local Taiwanese-American woman who was cast out of her family and the horrible things had (supposedly) happened to her.  From an outsider’s perspective it is easy to wonder “Why doesn’t she stand up for herself?”  This book does a great job of showing where she gets the idea that she has no other options.

The book features other characters who have been in these situations and examines the results of their decisions.  There is:

  • A woman who became a doctor because her family decided she would be
  • A female relative whose life is taken up by caring for her mother
  • Mei’s boyfriend, who is from a Japanese-American family that has been living in the United States for several generations
  • Mei’s mother 

Mei’s mother’s story was amazing.  At the beginning she is portrayed as an overbearing, neurotic mother who has Mei’s schedule memorized and panics if she doesn’t answer her phone when she knows she should be out of class.  Her phone messages are played for laughs.  As the story deepens though we start to see her conflicts.  She’s the daughter-in-law of a very traditional family in an arranged marriage where her role is very sharply defined.  As she sees Mei start to branch out, she opens up a little about her life and you develop a lot of compassion for a character who very easily could have descended into a caricature.  

It’s great.  I would recommend this one to everyone.  Go get it and read it and pass it on.

22 Feb, 2018

The Belles

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Belles The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
on February 6th 2018
Pages: 448
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Disney-Hyperion
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.
But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.
With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

Goodreads

I wanted to love this book so much more than I did.  I’ve been hearing about it for so long and have heard such glowing praise of it that when I finished it and felt a bit blah towards it, I was disappointed.

The Hype

This book has been super hyped because of the use of a black model in a gown on the cover.  It was celebrated as a great step forward for representation in books and it is.  But because of that I thought that race would play a bigger part in this book than it does.  Skin color in this world is decided on a whim.  There is no change in status/power/importance placed on the skin color that you have.  It is a fashion accessory.  It just seemed like it went from “Yay for Black Girls” on the cover and in the promotions to “But actually, this doesn’t have anything to do with you specifically” in the story.  If I didn’t know anything about how this book was promoted, it probably wouldn’t have felt strange to me.

Worldbuilding

The author does a great job in the opening of setting up the world.  It is imaginative and vivid.  After that though the world building just seems to stop.  This is a long novel at 448 pages.  In most fantasy books that size you’d know about countries around the area, the basis of the economy, how people of different classes live, what is their technology based on, etc.  The main character is very sheltered but that isn’t unusual in fantasy.  Usually they find out more about their surroundings that she does in this book though.  At least they show some interest in what is going on around them.  Camillia really doesn’t.

Wishy Washy Heroine

Events happen to the characters in this book.  They do not direct the action.  I think this is the key to my dissatisfaction with this book. 

Every time she is asked to make a decision, she puts it off for days. Eventually she makes a decision but it is usually irrelevant by then because events have moved on.  When deciding between what is right/hard and what is easy/cruel, she always chooses easy/cruel if forced to make a choice in the moment.  She seems like she is supposed to be a nice person – she remembers servants’ names! – but she is so very weak.  Only after witnessing and participating in abuse after abuse does she start to think that something might be wrong.  I would be much more interested in reading a story about the one of her fellow Belles who threw a fit about what she was being made to do almost from the beginning.  

Series vs Stand alone book

It is fine to have a book designed to be part of a series but I hate it when there is no resolution at the end of a book.  Even just wrapping up some side storylines is more satisfying than a totally open-ended book.  In a way this feels like the story is just starting and the pages run out.  That’s fine if you can move right on to the next book but it is annoying here.  At the end I kept thinking of questions that weren’t answered and thinking, “Maybe that’s in the next book” instead of enjoying what was in this one.  

Overall

I think the idea was good.  There are some very creative details in the world building like teacup elephants and mail being delivered by small balloons.  It may turn out to be the beginning of a good series.  But it doesn’t stand alone well as a single book.  

18 Jan, 2018

Son of a Trickster

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Son of a Trickster Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson
on February 7th 2017
Pages: 336
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Knopf Canada
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: British Columbia

Everyone knows a guy like Jared: the burnout kid in high school who sells weed cookies and has a scary mom who's often wasted and wielding some kind of weapon. Jared does smoke and drink too much, and he does make the best cookies in town, and his mom is a mess, but he's also a kid who has an immense capacity for compassion and an impulse to watch over people more than twice his age, and he can't rely on anyone for consistent love and support, except for his flatulent pit bull, Baby Killer (he calls her Baby)--and now she's dead.
Jared can't count on his mom to stay sober and stick around to take care of him. He can't rely on his dad to pay the bills and support his new wife and step-daughter. Jared is only sixteen but feels like he is the one who must stabilize his family's life, even look out for his elderly neighbours. But he struggles to keep everything afloat...and sometimes he blacks out. And he puzzles over why his maternal grandmother has never liked him, why she says he's the son of a trickster, that he isn't human. Mind you, ravens speak to him--even when he's not stoned.
You think you know Jared, but you don't.

Goodreads

This is not the book that I expected from the blurb.  I expected urban fantasy with Jared finding out he’s supernatural in the beginning of the book and then he has adventures.  That doesn’t happen.  Instead this is a hard look at the life of a First Nations teenager who lives with his unreliable and violent drug dealer mother and her boyfriend.  This book takes you up close and personal into a life of poverty and crime.  There is almost no magic happening for the first 2/3 of the book.  

It even has two of my automatic DNF plots.  His dog dies of heartworm at the beginning of the book (with a very odd veterinary clinic scene that isn’t anything that would happen for real).  There is also a scene of his mother killing a dog with her truck on purpose.  Animal abuse is a DNF.

I also absolutely hate stories of teenagers who do nothing but drink and take drugs.  I hate it in real life and I hate wasting my time on that type of plot in books.

So, knowing all that, why did I finish this book and think it was great?

The writing pulled me in and kept me engaged with the story.  Jared looks like he has nothing going for him.  His mother is an addict and dealer.  He is doing some low-level dealing.  But he is trying to keep his mother’s bills paid while also trying to keep his father and his new wife’s rent up to date.  He even helps his elderly neighbors with their chores.  None of the adult relatives in Jared’s life are responsible so he feels that he needs to be.  The only person he feels like he may be able to rely on is his paternal grandmother but his mother has forbidden him to talk to her.  He does anyway and he really wants to go live with her in order to finish school but he feels that it would be a betrayal of his mother, even when she is continuously betraying him.  By the end you want to protect him from yet another person who lets him down.

As Jared starts to see manifestations of his traditional beliefs appearing before him, he decides that he has been doing too many drugs and decides to get clean.  I love that that was his response to an invisible bear in the living room and cavemen in his bedroom.  But the magic is real and has always been there even if it is just starting to get through to him.

The author did a good job depicting the charm vs the dangerous irresponsibility of a drug-involved parent.  Jared’s mom obviously loves him and dotes on him but she also exposes him to men who hurt him and she will disappear without warning.  She relies on him to get her through bad trips and lavishes presents on him when she is manic.  She’s horrible but draws you into her self-absorbed world. 

Jared’s friends feel real.  They are a mix of popular and unpopular kids.  Native and non-Native also.  Each is well fleshed out and are unique characters.  

Of course this book really started to pick up for me when the magic became more apparent.  And then it was over.  I feel like there wasn’t a resolution.  This is part one of a series so I know that there will be more to the story but I would have liked to see more of an ending than this.  

 

03 Jan, 2018

That Inevitable Victorian Thing

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading That Inevitable Victorian Thing That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston
on October 3rd 2017
Pages: 330
Genres: Alternative History, Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: Ontario, Canada

Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendant of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history two centuries earlier. The imperial practice of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage like her mother before her, but before she does her duty, she'll have one summer incognito in a far corner of empire. In Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire's greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir apparent to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an unusual bond and maybe a one in a million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process —just like the first Queen Victoria.

Goodreads

This is a YA alternative history book that imagines that the British Empire is still alive and well.  The decision that made the difference was that Queen Victoria named her eldest daughter heir and then married off all her other children to people in the Empire instead of other European royal families.  Now, the Empire is predominately made up of mixed race people.  Canada has a high percentage of people originally from Hong Kong.  The Church of England consists mostly of a DNA database that chooses the best DNA match for people.

The Crown Princess Victoria-Margaret wants one summer away.  She decides to make her debut in Canada while passing herself off as a cousin to one of the leading families there.  She makes other friends though who aren’t in on her secret and this leads to romantic entanglements that aren’t what she expected.

I thought the world building was interesting in this book.  It was intriguing to think about what might have happened if the British had treated their subjects as people worthy of respect.  If you pick too much at the assumptions made in the book though it might all fall apart.  My recommendation is just to enjoy it and go along for the ride. 

At the end of the book the main characters are hatching a plot.  It doesn’t seem very well thought out to me so I will be interested to see what happens in upcoming books. 

 

28 Oct, 2017

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Dear Martin by Nic Stone Dear Martin by Nic Stone
on October 17th 2017
Pages: 224
Narrator: Dion Graham
Length: 4:32
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Listening Library
Format: Audiobook
Source: Playster
Setting: Georgia

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can't escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.
Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Goodreads

I managed to avoid finding out exactly what this book was about before listening to it.  I didn’t even read the full blurb.  (I deleted the part I didn’t read in the synopsis above.)  Not knowing what was going to happen let the emotional impact of the book hit me full force. 

This is an amazing and necessary book.  If any of you are thinking, “I read The Hate U Give, I don’t need to read this one,” get that out of your brain.  While the subject matter is similar, these books are very, very different.  Dear Martin depicts an attempt by an African-American teenager to move past an emotionally traumatizing incident with a police officer.  He finds that that is harder than he expects though as his eyes are opened to what is going on around him. 

I appreciated the way he struggles with different approaches to living in a racist society through his interactions with several adult African-American men in his life.  Each discusses his struggles and his way of surviving, allowing Justyce to try to choose the best options for him. 

The narration in this book was very well done by Dion Graham.  It is a short audiobook at just four and a half hours.  This is one that I will relisten to with my husband in the future. 

I don’t want to say much more about the book.  If you don’t already know the whole plot, I’d recommend just starting this story without finding out much more.  This is a hard-hitting book that will move you.  It is a must read for everyone.

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
14 Jul, 2017

Series Review – The Agency by Y.S. Lee

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Series Review – The Agency by Y.S. Lee A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee
on March 9th 2010
Pages: 335
Series: The Agency #1
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Candlewick
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Setting: England

Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners — and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency, and at seventeen, Mary is about to put her training to the test. Assuming the guise of a lady’s companion, she must infiltrate a rich merchant’s home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the household is full of dangerous deceptions, and there is no one to trust — or is there?

Goodreads

Mary Quinn is given a last minute reprieve from the gallows and is sent to a school for girls.  She is savvy enough to know that this is very strange.  She doesn’t know what is behind it until years later when she finishes her education and is offered a place in a detective agency run by the headmistresses of the school.

Mary has secrets of her own.  She is an orphan and knows that her father was Chinese.  In 1850s London Chinese people are not admitted to polite society.  She explains away her dark coloring by saying that she is Black Irish.  That settles things for most English people but Chinese people she meets recognize the truth about her.

The Agency places its agents undercover as maids or ladies’ companions because women are considered not smart enough to be spies.  They can infiltrate places that men would never be able to get.

On Mary’s first assignment she runs into James Easton in a closet while snooping.  He is snooping about the family she is assigned to also but for different reasons.  They are forced to work together.  Mary and James have great chemistry in this series.  It is a slow romance that has many reasonable obstacles.


Series Review – The Agency by Y.S. Lee The Body At The Tower by Y.S. Lee
on October 26th 2010
Pages: 342
Series: The Agency #2
Published by Candlewick
Setting: England

Now nearly a full-fledged member of the Agency, the all-female detective unit operating out of Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls, Mary Quinn is back for another action-packed adventure. Disguised as a poor apprentice builder and a boy, she must brave the grimy underbelly of Victorian London - as well as childhood fear, hunger, and constant want - to unmask the identity of a murderer. Assigned to monitor a building site on the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament, Mary earns the confidence of the work crew, inching ever nearer her suspect. But if an irresistible desire to help the city's needy doesn't distract her and jeopardize her cover, unexpectedly meeting up with an old friend - or flame - just might.

Goodreads

The Agency has always placed female operatives but one of the founders wants to expand.  She agrees to let Mary go undercover as a boy in order to get a large contract.  They are hired to figure out part of the reason why a man was murdered at the construction site of the Houses of Parliament.  Mary knows nothing about construction but is trying to fit in with her new crew when an engineer comes to do a review of the building practices.  It is a physically and emotionally battered and beaten down James Easton.

I think that this may be my favorite book of the series.  I don’t usually say that about second books.  They are usually a let down.  In this one the author has already established the characters so well that you care about them and their adventures.  You get a better idea of the dangerous world of the extremely poor in London.  For me this book was more about life in the city and the class and gender and racial barriers that both characters are bending than the mystery.


Series Review – The Agency by Y.S. Lee The Traitor in the Tunnel by Y.S. Lee
on February 28th 2012
Series: The Agency #3
Published by Candlewick

Get steeped in suspense, romance, and high Victorian intrigue as Mary goes undercover at Buckingham Palace - and learns a startling secret at the Tower of London.

Goodreads

Mary is on assignment undercover in Buckingham Palace to investigate some thefts.  This gives the author the chance to examine the lives of maids in Victorian times.  They worked all the time.  They were not supposed to be seen by members of the royal family so they had to freeze or hide if any of the nobility came into a room.  They are also vulnerable to any male member of the nobility who take a fancy to them.

While investigating the thefts, Mary stumbles on a scandal involving the Prince of Wales.  One of his highborn friends was killed in an opium den by a Chinese man who has the same name as her supposedly dead father.  She decides to investigate this and has to face the truth of her Chinese heritage that she has managed to avoid for most of her life.

Right when she is starting to make progress, she is recalled because the Agency finds out that the engineering firm owned by James Easton will be doing some top secret work under the palace.  They don’t want her to get involved with him again because he has complicated her other cases.  Should she stay or should she go?


Series Review – The Agency by Y.S. Lee Rivals in the City (The Agency, #4) by Y.S. Lee
on June 5th 2014
Pages: 352
Published by Walker

The series comes full circle as the one of the criminals from book one is dying in prison. Mary is hired to watch for the one that escaped making a last minute visit. She knows they will have a score to settle with her and James.

Goodreads

This was a great last book.  It ties up a lot of loose ends by going back to the villains of book one and seeing how everyone has changed in the intervening years.  It is hard to talk about this book much without spoilers for the series.

I binged this series over the course of a week.  I absolutely loved it.  On top of complex mysteries there were discussions of the intersections of race and class and gender at the time.  Add a very fun and banter-filled romance on top of that and this is a great series even if mysteries aren’t usually your favorite.

About Y.S. Lee

Y S Lee was born in Singapore, raised in Vancouver and Toronto, and lived for a spell in England. As she completed her PhD in Victorian literature and culture, she began to research a story about a girl detective in 1850s London. The result was her debut novel, The Agency: A Spy in the House. This won the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s inaugural John Spray Mystery Award in 2011.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Europe
  • POC authors
14 Jun, 2017

How Dare the Sun Rise

/ posted in: Reading How Dare the Sun Rise How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child by Sandra Uwiringiyimana, Abigail Pesta
on May 16th 2017
Pages: 304
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs, Young Adult
Published by Katherine Tegen Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, U.S.

This profoundly moving memoir is the remarkable and inspiring true story of Sandra Uwiringyimana, a girl from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who tells the tale of how she survived a massacre, immigrated to America, and overcame her trauma through art and activism.

Goodreads

Sandra and her family are part of the Banyamulenge tribe.  Originally the tribe lived in Rwanda but migrated to the Congo.  They are not considered citizens of any nation and they are persecuted in the Congo.

War was a constant backdrop in her life.  Her family often had to flee because of an outbreak of fighting wherever they were living.  It got worse when her oldest brother was kidnapped along with 200 other boys and taken to be used as a child solider.  Her father dedicated himself to rescuing her brother.

Sandra was 10 when fighting forced them to flee the Congo and cross the border into Burundi.

Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 9.20.08 AM

They were in a refugee camp in Gatumba on August 13, 2004 when armed men singing Christian praise songs came into the camp and started killing people.  Tents were set on fire to force people into the open where they were shot.  Most of the people in her tent including her aunt and cousins were killed.  Her mother was holding her six year old sister when she was shot repeatedly at point blank range.  Sandra had a gun held to her head but her captor let her go.

In the morning she found out that her mother had survived because she was tossed into a pile of corpses and managed to crawl away before they were burned.  Her little sister was dead.  Her brother was severely injured.

The family eventually moved to Rwanda and then was resettled in the United States.  They thought their lives would be fine then.  They didn’t realize the problems of being a refugee in the United States.  They had lived a comfortable life in the Congo.  Now they were living in poverty.  People asked her what it was like to learn to wear shoes assuming she had never done that in Africa.  Although she was fluent in three languages, people ridiculed her poor English.  The family survived numerous setbacks in America.  Sandra emerged as a spokesman for her tribe.  She educated groups at the UN about the massacre and the hardships of being a refugee.

Then when she was in college, it all came crashing down on her.  The feelings she and her family had supressed for so long were too much.  She describes her problems with survivor’s guilt, depression, and PTSD.  How do you get help for this when you are ashamed to speak of it especially to your family?  Her mother had endured so much and seemed fine.  Sandra was ashamed for not being as strong as her mother.   Opening up a dialogue with her family about what happened was the hardest part of her mental health journey.

This book is written very simply.  It is very matter of fact without a lot of embellishment.  It is geared towards YA readers.

I hadn’t heard of the Banyamulenge or the Gatumba massacre.  The man who claimed responsibility for it has since run for President of Burundi.  No charges have ever been brought against anyone for the murder of 166 people.

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Africa
  • POC authors
24 May, 2017

Noteworthy – Acapella with a Twist

/ posted in: Reading Noteworthy – Acapella with a Twist Noteworthy by Riley Redgate
on May 2nd 2017
Pages: 400
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Amulet Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Jordan Sun is embarking on her junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts, hopeful that this will be her time: the year she finally gets cast in the school musical. But when her low Alto 2 voice gets her shut out for the third straight year—threatening her future at Kensington-Blaine and jeopardizing her college applications—she’s forced to consider nontraditional options.
In Jordan’s case, really nontraditional. A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshipped…revered…all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.

Goodreads

Reading this book was so stressful for me.  I’m not a fan of books that depend on misunderstanding or lies as a plot device.  I’m always wondering when the other shoe is going to drop.  That isn’t the fault of this book.  It is one of the few books that I felt did a good job with this type of story line.

There is a lot going on in this novel.  Jordan is a Chinese-American girl from a poor family in San Francisco.  Her father is disabled and her mother is having a hard time keeping a job while caring for him.  Jordan has a scholarship to this boarding school on the East coast but it doesn’t cover all her expenses.  This is a hardship for her family.  It also sets her apart from the other students who tend to be wealthy.

This story takes place at a high school.  I had a hard time remembering that since it is a boarding school.  It seems more like a college story until they discuss not being able to drive.

Jordan starts to live a double life – a girl during the day and Julian, the newest male member of the Sharps at night.  This leads to a lot of thoughts on gender and sexuality. She gets a lot of advice on how to pass for male from websites for transgender people.  She is uncomfortable with this.  Is she using other people’s real lives for her own selfish gain? Later, members of the Sharps decide that she must be a gay man.  She lets them think that instead of having them find out the truth.  Again she has to think about what it means to appropriating another group’s identity.

I wasn’t a fan of the romance aspect of this book.  It didn’t feel like it needed to be there.  It seemed like since she had spent a lot of time with a group of guys than obviously she had to fall for one of them.  I would have liked this more if it hadn’t happened.

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
12 May, 2017

Outrun the Moon

/ posted in: Reading Outrun the Moon Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
on May 24th 2016
Pages: 391
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover
Source: Owned
Setting: California

San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty in Chinatown, and an education at St. Clare’s School for Girls is her best hope. Although St. Clare’s is off-limits to all but the wealthiest white girls, Mercy gains admittance through a mix of cunning and a little bribery, only to discover that getting in was the easiest part. Not to be undone by a bunch of spoiled heiresses, Mercy stands strong—until disaster strikes.
On April 18, a historic earthquake rocks San Francisco, destroying Mercy’s home and school. With martial law in effect, she is forced to wait with her classmates for their families in a temporary park encampment. Though fires might rage, and the city may be in shambles, Mercy can’t sit by while they wait for the army to bring help—she still has the “bossy” cheeks that mark her as someone who gets things done. But what can one teenage girl do to heal so many suffering in her broken city?

Goodreads


I started reading this book without really knowing what it was about.  I may be one of the few people who enjoyed the story of Mercy’s time at school more than I liked the story after the earthquake.

This book is split into two sections by the earthquake.  Before, Mercy is dealing with discrimination because of her sex, race, and class.  She is a Chinese girl who has finished the limited amount of schooling available to her.  She wants to be able to go to high school.  She has a plan to win a scholarship to an elite private school.  But once there she is disappointed to find it more interested in turning out proper young ladies than in the ladies increasing their knowledge.  She is also put directly into a world of wealth that she has never known before. 

The author does a great job of working in history lessons about treatment of Chinese people in California at the time.  She discusses the exclusion laws that prevented people from coming from China.  She talks about discriminatory housing laws that kept the Chinese population penned into a small area of the city. 

I was really into this book when the earthquake occurs.  Most of the girls at the school are boarding there from out of town so when the school is destroyed they have nowhere to go.  They end up living in a tent city set up in a park.  From here the book is a story of looting and cooking huge meals to try to feed everyone living in the park.  There was limited disaster aid at the time.  What help was available was out fighting the fires caused by the earthquake so survivors were mostly on their own. 

The author notes that group cooking situations like the one in the book were set up in the aftermath of the earthquake.  I’m glad she added that because I wouldn’t have believed it otherwise.  It seemed a little too feel-good for everything that was going on before.  I understand that the point was the discrimination can’t survive if everyone needs to work together when they have lost everything.  But it seemed a little too easy in the book.  No one seemed to really be grappling with the issues of loss and grief.  Maybe they were supposed to be numb and just focusing on survival. 

I’d recommend this book for a great look into life in 1906 San Francisco. 

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
21 Mar, 2017

Symptoms of Being Human

/ posted in: General Symptoms of Being Human Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
on February 2nd 2016
Pages: 352
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Balzer + Bray
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Setting: California

The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?
Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. The thing is…Riley isn’t exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in uber-conservative Orange County, the pressure—media and otherwise—is building up in Riley’s so-called “normal” life.
On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog to vent those pent-up feelings and tell the truth of what it’s REALLY like to be a gender fluid teenager. But just as Riley’s starting to settle in at school—even developing feelings for a mysterious outcast—the blog goes viral, and an unnamed commenter discovers Riley’s real identity, threatening exposure. Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created—a lifeline, new friends, a cause to believe in—or stand up, come out, and risk everything.

Goodreads

Riley is a congressman’s child in a conservative part of California.  The congressman is pushing for educational reform so Riley is taken out of private school and put in a public one for the first time.  First day jitters are worse because Riley is gender fluid and is unsure of how to present on the first day of school.  Within minutes of arriving at school, Riley overhears people guessing, “Is that a boy or a girl?” and one person decides to use “It” instead of any pronoun.

As part of Riley’s therapy after a suicide attempt, the psychologist recommends starting a blog.  The second post goes viral.  (Yeah, right.)  Riley becomes an online star and eventually is outed publicly.  It is a huge problem because Riley’s parents didn’t know.

An interesting aspect of the book is that the gender that Riley was assigned at birth is never stated.  The author never uses any pronouns to refer to Riley.  I’m extra impressed by this because it was hard to write this review without pronouns, let alone a whole book.  (Some reviews I’ve read have taken issue with this because pronouns are a difficult part of life for some people.)

This is a very character driven novel.  Riley and friends are the focus more than the plot.  Bec is a new friend at school.  She’s a social outcast and she’s in a band.  She befriends Riley and becomes a potential love interest.  Solo is a former outcast turned athlete who befriends Riley.  This causes tension with his friends on the football team.

There is a lot of violence and abuse hurled at Riley in the book.  Several characters have either committed suicide or have attempted.

Symptoms of Being Human does a great job of introducing gender fluidity to an audience who may not be familiar with the term.  The author is not gender fluid but obviously did a lot of research into the subject.  I’ve only seen one review by a person who identified as being gender fluid on Goodreads and that was a positive review for the book.  The feel of this book reminds me a lot of None of the Above.  The intent of the book is to educate on the subject.  Large information dumps don’t bother me at all but some people get annoyed by it.

I think this book is a good one for people to read especially if they aren’t familiar with gender fluidity.  Riley has a unique voice and perspective on the world.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
08 Mar, 2017

The Unintentional Time Traveler

/ posted in: General The Unintentional Time Traveler The Unintentional Time Traveler by Everett Maroon
on February 24th 2014
Pages: 248
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Booktrope Editions
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Kentucky

Fifteen-year-old Jack Bishop has mad skills with cars and engines, but knows he’ll never get a driver’s license because of his epilepsy. Agreeing to participate in an experimental clinical trial to find new treatments for his disease, he finds himself in a completely different body—that of a girl his age, Jacqueline, who defies the expectations of her era.

Goodreads

Jack starts to travel back in time during his seizures.  It takes a few times before he realizes what is going on.  Each time he is in the past for a longer period.  He gets dropped into a body of a girl in the 1920s named Jacqueline.  It is very Quantum Leap.

The town Jacqueline lives in is being terrorized by a local minister.  Jack is being dropped into different points in time to try to save the town.  But everything he does changes the timeline.

I enjoyed this book but it frustrated me.  It left me with several questions.  Years will pass while Jack is in the past but he is not in a coma.  He is going on with his life in the present day.  How?  Does anyone notice that he is not quite himself?  The same things happen with Jacqueline in the past.  Who is in their bodies when Jack/Jacqueline isn’t?  Is Jacqueline in Jack?  Are they just switching places?  Hopefully this will be addressed in future installments of the story.  This is book one of a series.

The author is transgender.  Had I not known that going into the book, I might have missed the exploration of gender and sexuality that happens in the story.  When Jack first finds himself in a female body he is very uncomfortable.  Over time he no longer has an issue with it.  Jacqueline is not considered to be a conventionally feminine woman of her time but she is still a more feminine person than Jack is in the future. Jacqueline has a relationship with a man named Lucas that starts when Jack is in her body.  When he jumps back into his own body he misses Lucas and worries about him.  That relationship fuels his desire to learn to master time travel to get back and help Jacqueline.  The author never comes out and says what gender or sexual orientation anyone is considered.  They just are who they are and love who they love.  It is so matter of fact that that is the reason why I might have missed the complexity if I wasn’t specifically looking at the gender dynamics.

This is a fun time travel mystery.  Read it if you like historical fiction with some suspense.

 

About Everett Maroon

Everett Maroon is a memoirist, pop culture commentator, and speculative fiction writer. He has a B.A. in English from Syracuse University and went through an English literature master’s program there. He is a member of the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association; Bumbling into Body Hair was a finalist in their 2010 literary contest for memoir. Everett writes about writing and living in the Northwest at trans/plant/portation.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
03 Mar, 2017

The Hate U Give

/ posted in: Reading The Hate U Give The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
on February 28, 2017
Genres: Young Adult
Format: eBook
Source: Owned

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Goodreads

This was one of the most anticipated books of the year.  I preordered it and started reading as soon as it downloaded.  It is worth all the hype.

I think a large part of the effectiveness of this novel is the complexity of the characters.  No one is a stock character with only one relevant character attribute or motivation.  This allows a lot of discussion among the characters on a huge range of topics.

Starr – She is 16 and lives in a neighborhood that she thinks of as the ghetto but she doesn’t want anyone else to call it that.  She witness her best friend Natasha get killed in a drive by shooting when they were 10.  After that her mother sent her to a private school in a safer neighborhood.  She feels like she is living a double life at home and at school.  She’s not sure she fits into either place.  She has a white boyfriend that she’s too afraid to tell her father about.

Khalil – He grew up with Starr but they don’t talk much any more.  His mother is a drug addict.  After he is killed, he is described as a drug dealer and a gang member but the truth is harder to come by.

Maverick – He’s Starr’s father.  He was a gang member but is out of it now.  He was in jail for three years when Starr was young.  He owns a grocery store in the neighborhood.  He is adamant that they are not going to move to a safer neighborhood because they need to help remake the one they live in.  He’s drilled Black Panther quotes into his children to teach them to survive.

Uncle Carlos – He is a policeman who grew up in the neighborhood.  He helped raise Maverick’s kids when he was in jail and there is still some tension between them.

Add in Starr’s mom and her brothers and the rest of the extended family in addition to the friends from the neighborhood and her school and this is a rich cast of characters with multiple points of view.


Khalil is driving Starr home from a party when they are pulled over.  He is pulled out of the car and then shot while standing beside the car.  The police and the officer’s family describe it as a shooting of a thug who was going for a gun.  Starr knows there was no gun.  Khalil looked into the car to ask if she was ok.  Now she’s dealing with the grief and trauma of witnessing his murder.

At first no one knows that she was the witness.  She wasn’t named because she is a minor.  She is unable to talk about it to her friends at school even though it is a major news story.  There is even a walkout supposedly in protest of his killing but mostly was just as an excuse to get out of class.  As she sees people around her react to the story of Khalil’s death she is forced to face racism in her friends that she had been ignoring before.

Should she break her silence and talk about what happened?  She talks to the grand jury but should she go public?  What will the repercussions be for her family and her neighborhood?  Talking publicly will bring up issues like gang violence that no one talks about for fear of retaliation.

This is a vibrant and layered story about life in a poor community in an inner city.  It shows an intact African-American family with open love and affection between the parents.  That’s rare to find in books.  I’ll leave all the analysis of black representation to others but I thought it was amazing.

I would love to hand this book to any white person who has ever thought All Lives Matter was an appropriate response to Black Lives Matter or who thought that a police killing was justified because the person was probably up to no good.  I doubt they would read it but this book needs to be out in the world being read by everyone.

The title comes from Tupac.  This clip was referenced in the book.  He explains what THUG LIFE means to him.

 

About Angie Thomas

“Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She can also still rap if needed. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Meyers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, was acquired by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in a 13-house auction and will be published in spring 2017. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 with George Tillman attached to direct and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg set to star.”   from Goodreads

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • POC authors
20 Feb, 2017

Sworn to Raise

/ posted in: Reading Sworn to Raise Sworn to Raise by Terah Edun
on April 8th 2013
Pages: 275
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
Published by All Night Reads
Format: eBook
Source: Owned

Seventeen-year-old Ciardis Vane grew up in a small village on the edge of the realm. Beautiful, destitute, and desperate she is looking to get out anyway she can. She has worked her whole live as a laundress with no hope of escaping her fate anytime soon.

But then her life changes when a strange woman appears with the key to Ciardis' escape. With an offer to take her to the capital and a life she'd never dreamed of, it's hard to resist. There's only one catch.

She wants Ciardis to become a companion: she'll be required to wear expensive dresses, learn to conduct suitable magic, educate herself oncourt proclivities, and - in the end - chain herself to the highestbidder. A Patron for life.

Goodreads

This is a book that I loved until I didn’t.

The beginning of the story drew me in quickly.  I loved the writing and the story of a girl who is discovered in the laundry and trained to be a courtesan.

She is the last of a family of powerful mages.  She has the ability to amplify the magic of anyone else.  This is very attractive in a companion.  Companions are chosen for life.  The Patron may go through multiple marriages but companions stay by their side as business partners and sometimes as romantic partners.  Ciardis peaks the interest of both men and women interested in her powers.

Then, about halfway through the story, it started to lag.  It started slipping into too many tropes for my liking.  The Prince is in disguise!  Ciardis doesn’t realize how powerful she is!  There are evil people advising the King!  Any of these could be worked into a good story but this book didn’t seem to go deep enough.  It was like it was hitting the highlights of what should be in a fantasy book.

I did like the fact that there was no romance in this book.  That is a nice change of pace.  I have a feeling that it will change in future books but it was nice for now.

I am still intrigued enough in the overall story to give the next book a try.  The reviews on Goodreads suggest that it is better than the first one.  So far there are nine books in this series.  I can’t imagine where this could be going that requires that many but I’m willing to be surprised.

About Terah Edun

Terah’s work has taken her from communities in Morocco to refugee centers in South Sudan. She is both an international development worker and a New York Times bestselling author of young adult novels. Hailing from Atlanta, GA and currently living in Washington, D.C. her favorite place to be is in front of the computer communicating the stories of underprivileged individuals around the world – both fictional and representative.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • POC authors
15 Feb, 2017

3 by Hannah Moskowitz

/ posted in: Reading 3 by Hannah Moskowitz 3 by Hannah Moskowitz
on October 31st 2016
Pages: 261
Genres: Young Adult
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Florida

Taylor Cipriano had everything figured out, back when she lived with her single mother in Miami. Now, she's moved upstate for her junior year to live with her mom's boyfriend and her soon-to-be-stepsister and is trying to figure out who she is out of the shadow of her best friend. When she meets Theo—quirky, cute, sensitive Theo—he seems like a great match...except he has a girlfriend. Josey, icy and oh-so-intimidating.
But Theo and Josey aren't like anyone Taylor's met before; Josey grew up in a polyamorous family, and the two of them have a history of letting a third person in to their relationship. It's nothing Taylor's ever considered before...but she really likes Theo.
Her feelings for Josey, though?
That's where it really gets complicated.

Goodreads

I have a few things that I consider to be true about my reading life.

  1. YA books generally annoy me.
  2. I especially don’t like YA contemporary books.
  3. I hate, hate, hate love triangles.

I hate to have to rethink long held beliefs about myself.  I’m going to have to though.  I’ve been enjoying some YA contemporary books lately.

I loved this book.  I loved it even though this is an actual love triangle.  Maybe I don’t hate it because no one is choosing who to love and is just agreeing to love everyone.  It isn’t a competition.

Taylor is a junior when she moves to a new town.  She meets Theo and Josey.  She is warned that they are weird but she likes Theo a lot.  When they explain to her that they are polyamorous, she doesn’t know what that means.  In their relationship that means that they are open to other partners.

Other people misunderstand the intent behind the relationship.  They feel that it is unfair for Theo to have two girls that he is using.  They think that it means that Taylor is open to sleeping with any one.  Taylor is nervous that her involvement will feed into stereotypes of Latinas being The Other Women.

What I found most interesting about this book is that I believed it.  I wasn’t mocking the author’s attempts to make it seem like this was a real relationship that wasn’t exploiting anyone because it felt real.  I could see how this relationship could work.  It worked better than a lot of two person relationships I’ve read about in books.  There were no major misunderstandings that could be resolved just by talking to each other.  There was no game playing to make someone else jealous or insecure.  It felt age appropriate.

My only complaint about this book was Josey’s obsession with vet school that didn’t make any sense at all.  I ranted about that all in this post.

 

About Hannah Moskowitz

Hannah Moskowitz wrote her first story, about a kitten named Lilly on the run from cat hunters, for a contest when she was seven years old. She was disqualified for violence. Her first book, BREAK, was on the ALA’s 2010 list of Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, and her book GONE, GONE, GONE won a Stonewall Honor in 2013. She lives in Maryland.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • LBGTQ authors/characters
26 Jan, 2017

The Reader by Traci Chee

/ posted in: Reading The Reader by Traci Chee The Reader (Sea of Ink and Gold, #1) by Traci Chee
on September 13th 2016
Pages: 442
Genres: Fantasy & Magic
Published by Putnam
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Once there was, and one day there will be. This is the beginning of every story.
Sefia lives her life on the run. After her father is viciously murdered, she flees to the forest with her aunt Nin, the only person left she can trust. They survive in the wilderness together, hunting and stealing what they need, forever looking over their shoulders for new threats. But when Nin is kidnapped, Sefia is suddenly on her own, with no way to know who’s taken Nin or where she is. Her only clue is a strange rectangular object that once belonged to her father, something she comes to realize is a book.
Though reading is unheard of in Sefia’s world, she slowly learns, unearthing the book’s closely guarded secrets, which may be the key to Nin’s disappearance and discovering what really happened the day her father was killed.

Goodreads

Looking at reviews of this book it seems like this is either a book you adore or one that you don’t understand at all.  I’m in the don’t understand category.

The premise seems good.  A girl’s family is killed and she goes on the run with the thing that they were guarding – a book.  No one reads in this time so she doesn’t know why the book is important.

Ok, that seems like a good start.  But it starts to break down quickly.

RiverSongSpoilers

She vaguely remembers her mother playing with blocks with letters on them with her until her father tells them that it is too dangerous.  From that vague memory of a few letters, she somehow teaches herself to read.  Not buying it.  She starts reading a story in the book about pirates.  Then she rescues a boy who is being held to fight other boys to the death.  They chase after people who captured him and took her aunt away.  Eventually, the pirates from the book show up in real life.  Yeah.   But then she can’t find the story about the pirates in the book anymore.  Is the book gigantic or does it change or what?  Suddenly, it supposedly contains the stories of everyone but the only story that we see from it is the pirates.  Then there are people chasing the girl because she has magic but it isn’t clear whether they want her or the book or what.  Then they get captured but they run away.  The end.

What we don’t know:

  • Why is she magic?
  • Why do some people have magic of various kinds and others don’t?
  • Why are books outlawed?
  • What or who made this book so powerful?
  • Is Archer (the guy she rescued) the embodiment of a prophecy or just some guy?

I kept reading this book because I was certain it had to go somewhere and have everything tie together eventually.  I was wrong.  It wasted a great premise.  This is supposedly the first book in a series so maybe it will all make sense eventually but I don’t want to slog through more books to find out.

About Traci Chee

“Traci Chee is an author of speculative fiction for teens. An all-around word geek, she loves book arts and art books, poetry and paper crafts, though she also dabbles at piano playing, egg painting, and hosting potluck game nights for family and friends. She studied literature and creative writing at UC Santa Cruz and earned a master of arts degree from San Francisco State University. Traci grew up in a small town with more cows than people, and now feels most at home in the mountains, scaling switchbacks and happening upon hidden highland lakes. She lives in California with her fast-fast dog.”

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • POC authors
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