The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Note: This post is for a class, so it’s going to be a little different from my usual reviews!

the hate u give

The Hate U Give is Angie Thomas’s debut novel inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and published just this year. It focuses on Starr, a teenage African-American girl who lives “in the hood” but goes to a high socioeconomic class school elsewhere. One night, she witnesses her childhood friend Khalil killed unarmed by a policeman when he was merely checking to see if she was okay. Shocked by the incident and the media attention, Starr struggles to navigate her life in her community and her school, while trying to find how she can use her voice for social justice.

The Hate U Give is long for a contemporary–over 400 pages–but Starr’s voice is readable and the scope of the novel allows for a nuanced analysis of the situation. Starr’s narration makes use of AAVE (African-American Vernacular English), a linguistically valid dialect that is unfortunately seen as less “literary” or “proper” than Standard English, leaving minority students discriminated against and lacking representation. But Starr and Thomas use it in pride, while also examining the process of code-switching–how Starr speaks, dresses, and acts differently when she’s in more affluent and white situations like her school and the part of town her uncle and boyfriend live. She also has a great relationship with her parents and brothers, a family dynamic that’s so fun to read.

The Hate U Give similarly offers a nuanced dive into Starr’s community and the structural situations often ignored by those who don’t understand these protests of police brutality. Starr’s father is a former drug dealer and her brother’s mother is still involved in that world, leading her to experience how difficult it is to leave that world alive and how Khalil being labelled as a “drug dealer” in the media ignores the economic though spot he was in–the reason why many young men get mixed up in the world. Starr’s uncle is also a cop, but one who acknowledges the importance of accountability. There is also a discussion of performative allyship when students at Starr’s school skip school to participate in protests, while they exhibit biased behavior elsewhere.

This book is important not only for black teens struggling with these issues and looking to be represented, but also for students who can gain empathy and perspective from Thomas’s nuanced analysis of the situation. I’m exciting for the upcoming movie and to see this integrated into classrooms across the country!

the hate u give cast
The cast of Starr and her family in the upcoming film adaptation

Links Starr would be interested in:

Video: Angie Thomas on Inspiration Behind the Book

 

Advertisements

The Paladin Prophecy by Mark Frost

Note: This post is for a class, so it’s a bit different from my usual reviews!

paladinThe Paladin Prophecy is the first in a YA sci-fi/fantasy trilogy by Mark Frost (yes, the not-Lynch co-creator of Twin Peaks). It follows a teen named Will, the only child of a constantly-moving family (currently in a small town in California) who have trained him to follow specific life rules and keep a low profile. But this low profile is blown when he scores exceptionally high on a national, earning him tremendous interest and all-expenses paid trip to a secluded top boarding school in Wisconsin, which he flees to when he and his parents are being tracked down by mysterious force. One of those forces tracking him down appears to be a monster. Oh, and he has the power to “push” images at people with his mind.

The first 100 pages especially are fast-paced, full of intrigue because of all the mysterious and dangerous things happening to Will. It had a spy thriller feel to me. There are so many moving pieces that keep you guessing, and some details are not revealed until the very end.

Avid readers will probably notice familiar beats and tropes from other sci-fi and fantasy stories, as well as some plot contrivances. And all teens are probably going to find the “teen-speak” Frost tries so hard at to be laughable. However, for more reluctant readers or those not as familiar with the genre, this can definitely be a fun ride.

paladin image
From the Random House website

Links Will might be interested in:

Video: Book Trailer

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

Note: This is a bit different from my usual posts because it is part of a class assignment!

my heart and otherMy Heart and Other Black Holes is Jasmine Warga’s 2015 debut novel about two teenagers who make a suicide pact on a website for just that, choosing each other because of they live in neighboring towns. Aysel, the narrator, wants to die because she has depression and feels distant from her family, alienated by her community because they fear she’ll be like her father, who killed the town’s pride Olympic-bound teenage track star. Her partner is Roman, who wants to die because he feels responsible for his younger sister’s death and does not deserve to live.

This novel definitely comes with a plethora of trigger warnings in regard to suicidal thoughts. Aysel’s narration has the dark, snarky humor that’s often found with depressed teens (though it did feel familiar to me from reading various YA novels), but that means that dying is tossed around so lightly it’s a very heavy read. (Though I was disappointed she resorted to a negative throwaway line about cheerleaders, and OCD was used as an adjective to describe orderly behavior. Pet peeves of mine.)

The setting of small Kentucky towns was well-realized and specific. I enjoyed how Aysel saw the world through her interest in physics, as well as her reference to the “black slug” in her gut that represented depression. It also did a good job of portraying depression and addressing the potential permanent, genetic aspect of it. However, this book’s premise does walk a very fine and dangerous line that I’m not sure ever resolved (some spoilers ahead). As the synopsis and tagline of the book indicates, Aysel and Roman develop feelings to each other that make Aysel begin to question their pact to see what might happen with them. This is definitely the spark that turns the tables for her, and it’s a dangerous premise because you should never base your reason for living on one person and love–you can’t rely on that. But the book redeemed itself a bit by having her talk to her mother and want to pursue other interests in her life outside of Roman, so she had more to live for. Still, it’s impossible to divorce Aysel’s change in perception from her feelings from Roman, and that’s evident in the packaging of the book.

Links Aysel might visit (not including anything suicidal, for safety reasons):

depression

Video: Book Trailer

March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

Note: This is a bit different from my usual post because it is part of a class assignment!

march book 1March is a three-part graphic novel memoir from John Lewis, current House of Representatives member and civil rights icon. The first book covers Lewis’s childhood and college involvement with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee orchestrating sit-ins, the second volume covers voting rights and freedom rides, and the third covers the March on Washington. Andrew Aydin helped Lewis write the story, and Nate Powell drew the illustrations.

In Book One, John Lewis is getting ready in 2009 to attend the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first African-American president. A mother and her children visit his office for the sake of history, and since he is there, he begins to tell them about his life. He grew up in rural Alabama, witnessing segregation and taking an interest in preaching. Lewis greatly admires the nonviolence Martin Luther King, Jr. preaches, interested in how he links religion to social justice. Unfortunately, he cannot attend a local law school because it is segregated, and his family does not agree to take the risk and sue.  Lewis attends nonviolent activist workshops and joins the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). With them, he organizes and participates in sit-ins, refusing to move from the counter at an illegally segregated “whites only” restaurant while enduring abuse–and eventually integrating some restaurants in Nashville.

Racism is depicted in a brutally, realistic way, including language, but Lewis and his company stress taking the moral ground. While I do wish the text would have been bigger because it would have been more comfortable to read, the illustrations do a great job of enhancing and capturing the feeling of the text. For instance, the text of songs wind through the page, growing in strength with the crowd, and powerful moments are captured with blackout pages with a central image and little text. This should be a great read for graphic novel fans, those new to the medium, and those interested in history, social justice, and African-American literature.

Links John Lewis would enjoy:

john lewis.png
John Lewis during the March on Washington

Video: John Lewis’s March on Washington Speech

 

Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

Note: This is different from my usual posts because it’s part of a class project!

freakboy

Freakboy is a 2013 novel-in-verse by Kristin Elizabeth Clark.

(That means it is written

in poetry like

this,

representing the characters’

thoughts, with some

structural changes

l i k e  t h i s.)

There are 3 points of view portrayed: Brendan, a high schooler questioning his gender identity; Vanessa, Brendan’s girlfriend; and Angel, a Latina trans woman working at a LGBTQ youth center who eventually intersects with Brendan. [Note: I use he/him pronouns to describe Brendan because none other are used in the text.] Because this is told in such a stream-of-conciousness manner, there are a lot of dark and uncomfortable thoughts that can be despairing and difficult to read, so definite trigger warnings for homophobia, transphobia, depression, and suicidal ideation. Because the book submerges you in this headspace, it would not be the first book I recommend to a student who might be questioning their gender identity and already going through these thoughts daily.

The story primarily follows Brendan questioning his gender and how that affects his relationship with his girlfriend. Angel’s sections are mostly about her life story, and it takes a while for her to intersect with Brendan. The plot is rather thin as a result. Unfortunately, details of the setting and other characters are also sparse. We get to know Brendan’s family situation, especially his little sister, but not much else. The setting is supposed to be contemporary California (so 2013), and Brendan and Vanessa attend a prep school, but literally everyone encountered in the school–including outside the toxic masculinity of the wrestling team–is homophobic, and brutally so. I find that a bit difficult to believe for the setting and, once again, not my first choice for teens confronting this issue because reading it honestly made me feel sick.

I am glad this book does address non-binary (neither strictly male or female) gender identities, but I think it missed many crucial educational opportunities because Angel enters Brendan’s story in a way relevant to her job so late. Gendered pronouns (he, she, they, etc), which are extremely important for trans people and something many cis people do not understand, are never discussed. Vanessa’s parts were a little unnecessary because we knew more than she did about why Brendan was acting distant, and when she did contemplate her own sexual orientation, it was quickly dismissed (referring to a “phase” from her past, which is highly biphobic language), and never allowed for a nuanced consideration of the complexities of gender and sexuality. The ending isn’t the bleakest it could have been, but I found it frustrating, and I suffered a lot to get there.

Websites Brendan may have visited when figuring out his identity in the book:

trans flag
Trans pride flag

Video: Interview with the Author

 

Review: Echo After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta

Echo After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta

Genre: YA contemporary/mystery

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Publication date: October 10, 2017

Synopsis:

echo after echoDebuting on the New York stage, Zara is unprepared—for Eli, the girl who makes the world glow; for Leopold, the director who wants perfection; and for death in the theater.

Zara Evans has come to the Aurelia Theater, home to the visionary director Leopold Henneman, to play her dream role in Echo and Ariston, the Greek tragedy that taught her everything she knows about love. When the director asks Zara to promise that she will have no outside commitments, no distractions, it’s easy to say yes. But it’s hard not to be distracted when there’s a death at the theater—and then another—especially when Zara doesn’t know if they’re accidents, or murder, or a curse that always comes in threes. It’s hard not to be distracted when assistant lighting director Eli Vasquez, a girl made of tattoos and abrupt laughs and every form of light, looks at Zara. It’s hard not to fall in love. In heart-achingly beautiful prose, Amy Rose Capetta has spun a mystery and a love story into an impossible, inevitable whole—and cast lantern light on two girls, finding each other on a stage set for tragedy.

**I received an eARC copy of this from Negalley in exchange for an honest review.**

I excitedly requested Echo After Echo because I’d been looking forward to it; I’ve gotten into theater a lot lately (though not quite in an actor way) and haven’t seen many fictional books about drama kids, which hasn’t been helpful since I’m currently trying to capture some of that community in my own writing. Furthermore, a female/female love story featuring a bi girl always perks my interest.

So, I had the contemporary mindset going in, the genre I read mostly. But oh man, is this a mystery story, and a good one. The atmosphere is creepy from the beginning–I mean, Zara finds a dead body when she first arrives at the theater! And almost everyone in the theater is weird and mysterious–or, at least, not very friendly at first, including the creepy famous director, Leopold, who can get away with way too much power abuse because he’s “brilliant.” He also has visions, and coupled with the theater’s curse, I wondered if there was something supernatural going on. But because of Zara and Eli’s budding relationship, the mystery doesn’t take the forefront in the middle, so it doesn’t drag or rely solely on its (well-constructed) plot, constantly asking you to question it. And then they seem to figure it out, but…it isn’t what it seems. Which was AMAZING because I did not expect the level of complexity to the mystery in a book I regarded as a contemporary–and that more or less tricks you into believing you’re reading one in the middle.

But aside from the mystery, Zara/Eli is written with great amounts of suspense and swoon, keeping them apart for just the right time to keep the page turning without growing exhausting. It’s established early on that Zara and Eli like girls (though Eli doesn’t know Eli does for a while), and that Zara’s dated and kissed boys, too. So this wasn’t a discovery story in that respect, which tend to dominate LGBTQ stories (albeit for a reason–but it’s not the be-all-end-all). Yet, Zara isn’t completely figured out yet; she tries to come out to her family and also says “I’m bisexual” when she’s absolutely sure. THE WORD! It used the word, even when it was easy to infer! (Bi people always have to come out over and over again, or else they’re assumed to be either gay or straight.) Also, isn’t it great there’s queer representation in different genres (mystery in this case) from the usual contemporaries?

Echo After Echo is written in third person omniscient, with different chapters centering on different characters, although certainly Zara is focused on the most. This allowed for plenty of insight into the other characters’ psyches, preventing them from being weird types. Additionally, I just really liked the writing–there were quite a few turns of phrases I highlighted. (I would give examples, but ARCs are not final so we can’t quote from them!)

The theater was a refreshing (albeit dark and mysterious setting); it was nice seeing a YA book where the teenage characters are not in high school. Zara did apply to colleges to attend after she finishes her run in the play, and certainly not everyone can be a working artist at the age, but it was a great glimpse into that life.

I honestly have few negative things to say. I began to wish Adrien had more depth than the shallowness and awareness of fan-pleasing you’d expect from a young, hot male movie star, but then I was pleasantly surprised with more backstory and comments on how he stumbled into the business and how fame affected his life and relationships.

Now I need to get a finished, physical copy for my future classroom…

Review: Kid Authors: True Tales of Childhood from Great Writers

Author: David Stabler

Illustrator: Doogie Horner

Genre: nonfiction

Publisher: Quirk Books

Publication Date: October 10, 2017

Synopsis:

kid authorsThe series that includes Kid Presidents, Kid Artists, and Kid Athletes now chronicles the lives of Kid Authors! Here are true tales of famous writers, from long before they were famous–or even old enough to drive. Did you know:
– Sam Clemens (aka Mark Twain) loved to skip school and make mischief, with his best friend Tom, of course!
– A young J. R. R. Tolkien was bitten by a huge tarantula–or as he called it, -a spider as big as a dragon.-
– Toddler Zora Neale Hurston took her first steps when a wild hog entered her house and started chasing her!
The diverse and inclusive cast includes Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary, J. K. Rowling, Langston Hughes, Jules Verne, Lewis Carroll, Stan Lee, and many more.

**I received an eARC of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Kid Authors is a new middle grade (on the lower end of that spectrum, I would say) nonfiction book from Quirk Books in their series of fun stories about famous people when they were younger. Written by David Stabler, the book has many delightful color illustrations by Doogie Horner.

The book covers a diverse selection of authors, although most of them would be familiar to children, and they are mostly American. Some of the stories were more focused on specific events than others, which made them stronger in my opinion, and almost all related back to how they became authors. I found Sherman Alexie’s really interesting, and I didn’t know that Edgar Allen Poe was a foster child! Unfortunately, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s was not much new if you’re familiar with the Little House series.

A paragraph in Langston Hughes’s chapter really stood out to me: he was voted class poet in eighth grade unanimously, but he had not written a poem yet, at least outside of his mind. So he went and started writing to prove himself. That’s like some predestination craziness.

One thing I was a little surprised with was the use of “Indians” to refer to Native Americans all the time. It made sense in the Laura Ingalls Wilder story because of the time period, and there’s a great illustration of an exasperated Native American frustrated about how they’d left for a little and suddenly some settlers moved in. But otherwise, I was surprised they didn’t use Native Americans as well, as it is so much more accurate and I think that’s important in a children’s book.

There are also little facts about other authors’ childhoods in the back, which were pretty fun. The best one was absolutely Earnest Hemingway, that All-American Man, who was dressed in his older sister’s clothes until he was 5 and his mother said he was her daughter “Ernestine”!!!

This is definitely something great to have in the classroom!

Review: They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

Genre: YA speculative fiction/contemporary (feels more like the latter than a SFF story)

Publisher: Harper Teen

Release Date: September 5, 2017 (see what they did there??)

Synopsis:

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure and to live a lifetime in a single day.

they both die at the end

So this book snuck up on me a little. I’d loved Adam Silvera’s previous two books, but while More Happy Than Not floored me with its plot twists and construction and History is All You Left Me grabbed my interest with its topics on breakups and OCD, I wasn’t as interested in the concept of They Both Die at the End, so I was a little nervous. I’d seen a couple of great reviews and a couple of mixed ones. But then I got to the end, and I’m having troubling coming up with much negative to say about it.

While They Both Die at the End clearly has some sci-fi elements, it reads more like a contemporary, interesting in exploring the “what-if” situation with a realistic story. And yet, the impact Death-Cast has had on the world isn’t ignored–there’s a whole industry out there trying to make money by making the lives of the soon-to-die (called “Deckers”) better, and books, TV, and other stories now have Death-Cast as a plot point. A lot of it serves as commentary for how death is handled on social media, which is something I’ve had to think about recently. Most chapters are told from either Rufus’s or Mateo’s POVs (which are very distinctive), but there are glimpses of other people affected, most of which cross paths somewhere with Rufus and Mateo. Even though it all takes place in a day, there’s so much ground covered that it doesn’t feel rushed or stretched.

We all like to proclaim how emotional Adam Silvera’s books make us, but I’m not sure we give him enough credit for his plotting. More Happy Than Not has a plot twist that reveals so many little details planted beforehand, and They Both Die at the End reminded me of that careful structure. There are a lot of details–especially from the other POV chapters as I mentioned earlier–that fit together like pieces of a puzzle. And how they actually die isn’t quite what you expect.

Even though, yes, they both die at the end, the knowledge of the fact and how it is handled prevents this from being a “bury your gays” scenario. Like History is All You Left Me is about break-ups and grief with a m/m couple, this is a high-concept story about family and friendship and love that also happens to feature two boys. It’s not a “what is it like to be a guy or bi guy?” story. So, as I’m sure you’ve expected, there is a bit of a romance–but it’s a slow-burn, and even though this takes place over just one day, there’s friendship first. Lots of talking about deep, philosophical issues (I mean, what else would you do when your impending death is certain and foretold?) and their lives. Mateo and Rufus are very different characters, but they have plenty of heart and love for their family and friends. It’s cute and tender and pure.

Another thing I appreciated: Mateo likes music and has several songs that he has attachments to, and most of them were the kind of music I listen to, as well, so I had a deeper understanding of their relevancy, even though important lyrics are included. In particular: “One Song Glory” from Rent (regret and last wishes when death is close), “American Pie” (eight-minute epic about an untimely death, anti-60s sentiment aside), and “You’re Song” by Elton John (such a unique choice for a contemporary for its love and friendship song). I was geeking out a bit, I admit.

TBR: I Have Too Many Books I Want to Read in October

Hello, it’s October now, and I’ve got a heck of a lot to read so I’m a bit stressed. Naturally, I’m going to blog about it. Here’s a “TBR” for October even though I know I won’t get to read quite a bit of it!

For class

  • FreakBoy: This is for my teaching YA class and I’m a little skeptical and biased because I’ve read books about trans characters actually written by trans people and I’m willing to bet they’re more nuanced. But it’s written in verse so it should be a quick read.
  • The Faerie Queene, Book 1 by Edmund Spenser: This is for my literary history 1 class also known as “the old stuff,” so I’m expecting some poetry and Christianity.
  • My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga: Also for my YA class. I’ve been aware of this since it came out, and I’ve heard it’s good at portraying depression but also wraps things up too neatly while relying too heavily on a love interest to make things better, so I’m skeptical.

New Releases

  • Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore (Oct 3.): Magical realism true to its Latinx roots! Bi girl! So excited.
  • Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (Oct. 10): Let’s say I’m more on the “OCD written by someone with OCD!!” train than the “John Green” train (though I appreciate what he and his company do for education on YouTube). I think there’s going to be several ideas I resonate with in here.
  • The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman (Oct 19): I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS FOR SO LONG! And I only reread His Dark Materials two years ago so I think I’m prepared.

For Review

  • 27 Hours by Tristina Wright: I got a copy of this from Entangled Teen to review. It’s been rather hyped, and I’m interested to see LGBTQ characters in sci-fi while also being aware of the discussions going around with this book right now.
  • Kid Authors by David Stabler: This is a middle grade nonfiction book of stories from the childhoods of famous authors. It’s fun so far, and not too long.
  • Echo After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta: Theater! Girls falling in love with each other! This is exactly what I want to read right now and I can’t wait to get to it.

October-y Books

Meanwhile, I also have some books I’ve had for a while and was saving for Halloween…

  • The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury: This one’s short and a more recent addition to my Bradbury collection. Maybe I’ll actually get to it.
  • The Shining and Misery by Stephen King: I’ve actually never read a Stephen King book (or seen one the movies), and I’ll probably start with Misery. I’m also doubtful I’ll get to them this Halloween season, but this winter I may get to it.

Again, I want to get to as many of these as possible, but school reading comes first, followed by the Netgalley titles (Kid Authors and Echo After Echo), and the new releases so I can join in the conversation. But I might not be able to resist a spooky read, either!

 

Review: Kaleidoscope Song by Fox Benwell

Kaleidoscope Song

Genre: YA contemporary

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication date: September 19, 2017

kaleidoscope songSouth Africa is loud. Listen. Do you hear the song and dance of it? The chorus of Khayelitsha life? Every voice is different, its pitch and tone and intonation as distinct as the words we choose and how we wrap our mouths around them. But everybody has a voice, and everybody sings…

Fifteen year old Neo loves music, it punctuates her life and shapes the way she views the world. A life in radio is all she’s ever wanted.
When Umzi Radio broadcasts live in a nearby bar Neo can’t resist. She sneaks out to see them, and she falls in love, with music, and the night, but also with a girl: Tale has a voice like coffee poured into a bright steel mug, and she commands the stage.

It isn’t normal. Isn’t right. Neo knows that she’s supposed to go to school and get a real job and find a nice young boy to settle down with. It’s written everywhere – in childhood games, and playground questions, in the textbooks, in her parents’ faces. But Tale and music are underneath her skin, and try as she might, she can’t stop thinking about them.

Read More »