Category Archives: Young Adult

Short short reviews: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy and Cress

13206828Cress

Marissa Meyer

550 pages

Published in February 2014 by Feiwel & Friends

Source: Personal Library

Genre: YA, fantasy and science fiction

I picked up Cress after enjoying the first two books in Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series. Also in an effort to get Piper reading more chapter books (she prefers manga and graphic novels), we agreed on reading Cress together.

Instead of giving you a plot summary of the book, I rather just tell you what I thought of it. Cress is probably my favorite of the three books. The books in this series are fast paced and use elements of various fairy tales without relying on them. I found the female characters like Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder believable. This book also gives Piper and me a lot to discuss as we wait for book four to be published.

I told you this was going to be a short review. My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

 

17910570Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

Karen Foxlee

240 pages

Published in 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Source: Public Library

Genre: Middle grade, fantasy, fairy tale retellings

A few weeks ago, I was going through a reading rut. I picked Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy up because it was on my tbr list for months.

Ophelia is a girl who doesn’t believe in magic; she believes in science. After the death of her mother, her father throws himself into his work while Ophelia’s older sister becomes selfish and mean. When an offer comes for a new job curating a museum’s collection, Ophelia’s father takes it, moving the girls to a city that never stops snowing. It’s at the museum that Ophelia finds a strange boy locked up in a room, a prisoner of the Snow Queen. His captivity sends Ophelia on adventures through the museum in search of a key that will free him. What happens next is more than the young girl thought was possible.

I found Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy to be the perfect read to get me out of my rut. The book wasn’t perfect as I often found myself preferring the story of the boy and how he became the queen’s prisoner to Ophelia’s story. I think young readers will enjoy this fairy tale retelling. My rating:  3 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Zora: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston

fradinZora: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston

Written by Dennis Brindell Fradin and Judith Bloom Fradin

192 pages

Published in 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Source: Public Library

Zora: The Life of Zora Neale Hurtson follows the critically-acclaimed author and anthropologist from her birth in Notasulga, Alabama to her death in her sixties, penniless and almost forgotten. In between these years, the authors show readers what made Zora Neale Hurston special and just how much life she packed in her years.

I really enjoy reading memoirs and biographies about people who spent their lives doing what they loved. From the journals of Frida Kahlo to memoirs about Georgia O’Keefe, if a person followed their passion, I want to read a book about it. So reading a book about Zora Neale Hurston, the writer of the classic Their Eyes Were Watching God, was a no-brainer.

It’s said that Zora Neale Hurston packed more lives in her sixty-nine years of life than most people ever do. From her troubled childhood after the death of her mother to having to drop out of school many times to work, Zora rushed head-on. The authors pack so many details in the book to illustrate how rich Hurston’s life was. She lied about her age so many times for different reasons like getting a job to going to school for free. Being young, black, and smart, Zora ran into problem after problem but figured out ways around or through them. This book was written for middle-grade students and up, but I think anyone who reads this will find inspiration from Hurston’s life.

I loved learning about Hurston’s friendship with Langston Hughes, her inspiration for Their Eyes Were Watching God, and her life as an anthropologist traveling throughout the south for black folklore.  Even I could picture her standing on a sidewalk in Harlem, measuring strangers’ heads to prove racists wrong about the link between intelligence and the head size.

There are so many interesting tidbits to learn about Hurston but the problem is this book is so dry. The book is less than 200 pages but it took me over a week to read. Hurston’s life isn’t the problem but the author’s writing style. It became a chore to read this. If I, a reader who was already interested in the subject, had a hard time getting through this book, I can just imagine the experience a young reader going through this book will have. I don’t think they would finish it.

Hurston’s life was rich with adventures and this book proves that, but I’m reluctant to recommend it. If you’re already interested in Hurston’s life, I think you should give this book a try. For readers who don’t know much about the author, I suggest picking up something else about Hurston. My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Mini-reviews: The Year of the Beasts, A Greyhound of a Girl, and Her Mother’s Face

The Year of the Beasts

Cecil Castellucci and Nate Powell

192 pages

Published in May 2012 by Roaring Brook Press

Source: Library

I decided to read The Year of the Beasts since I loved Castellucci’s earlier book, The Plain Janes. Unfortunately, this book fell short of the magic of that previous read. The Year of the Beasts is the story of Tessa, a teen girl, and her younger sister Lulu. It’s supposed to be a great summer with the carnival in town and the chance for Tessa to snag her longtime crush. But things don’t go awry (at least to Tessa) as her crush ends up with Lulu. Her sister’s happiness brings out the worst in Tessa even when things go her way. Will Tessa ever realize that sometimes it’s a blessing when you’re dreams don’t come true?

Like I said before, this turned out to be a disappointing read. It may have been the fact that as a twenty-something, I’m not the intended audience for this. After a few chapters of reading about Tessa’s jealousy and anger toward Lulu, I was ready to either abandon the book or slap Tessa a few times and tell her to get over it. I spent most of the book tired of Tessa. Or maybe my disappointment comes from the fact that The Plain Janes left me with expectations that were too high. Castellucci and Powell take the story back and forth between that summer of change and its affect on everyone around. I do like that with this back and forth, the format changed. One chapter consisted of mostly words while the next was in graphic novel format. I thought it was a nice change that left readers wondering why Tessa’s hair is suddenly made of snakes. Too bad my curiosity wasn’t enough to change my feelings for the book. Recommended to middle-grade and teen readers only. My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

A Greyhound of a Girl

Roddy Doyle

208 pages

Published in 2012 by Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams Books

Source: Publisher and public library

“She hated the hospital. She hated walking through it. She hated everything about it. Except for one thing. Her granny. She hated the hospital, but she loved her granny.”

Mary O’Hara wishes that her life would go back to what it once was. Her best friend has moved and her grandmother, Emer, is dying. One day on her way home, Mary meets a strange woman. The woman looks young but wears clothes from a different era. After a few more meetings, Mary finds out that this woman is the ghost of her great-grandmother, Tansey. Tansey is bidding her time until she’s able to take Emer to the afterlife. Until then, Tansey has a message for her dying daughter. . .

This story might sound a little creepy but it’s not. I found A Greyhound of a Girl to be a short and sweet read. Looking back at this book that I read just a week ago, I’m finding that I don’t have much to say about it. The strength of this book can be found in readers learning more about Tansey and the life she lived as a young woman who’s newly married and with young children before dying suddenly of the flu. As a mother, I could feel her dying worries for her children and their well-being. I also enjoyed reading about the midnight ride that Mary, her mother Scarlett, Emer, and Tansey take together from Dublin to the family’s old farm in the country. The problem with this story is that it’s not very memorable. I hate writing that but it’s true. Tansey’s life and the ride is what stand out in this tale of magic realism. One more thing that I want to note: while this book is for the middle grade crowd, Doyle has a book with a similar theme of family and love for younger kids.

Doyle’s picture book, Her Mother’s Face, was published four years before A Greyhound of a Girl and is much more memorable. Siobhᾲn is a young girl who misses her mother and it doesn’t help that her father refuses to talk about her. All of Siobhᾲn’s friends have moms but none understand the sadness that she feels. One day, a mysterious woman tells Siobhᾲn that if she wants to see her mom to look in the mirror. As she ages, she’ll see what her mother looked like at that age. Siobhᾲn’s heart gets a little lighter as she realizes that every time she looks in the mirror, her mother is right there. I first read this book years ago and found myself tearing up by the last page.

My rating for A Greyhound of a Girl: 3 out of 5 stars.

My rating for Her Mother’s Face: 5 out of 5 stars.

Review: No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller

Written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, artwork by R. Gregory Christie

192 pages

Published in 2012 by Carolrhoda Lab, an imprint of Carolrhoda Books

Source: Public Library

I think there’s been a war on independent bookstores. It’s a crime because books are more than just books in the African American community. Literacy and education were once the hopes for getting away from slavery, out of the ghetto, into power. Bookstores have been cultural crossroads, information centers. The bookstore is where we meet, where we talk. In the sixties, in Harlem, at 125th Street and Seventh, it was Lewis Michaux’s bookstore.  –Poet Nikki Giovanni

No Crystal Stair is a celebration, a celebration of the written word and one man’s dedication to it. As avid readers, we know how life-changing and earth-shattering the affect that reading can have on our lives. In Harlem during the 1930s, Lewis Michaux asked a banker for a $500 loan but was turned down. According to the banker, “black people don’t read”. Determined, Michaux started his bookstore with five books and a cart. He would walk up and down the street, shouting about the books he was selling. Over three decades, those five books turned into more than 200,000 at Michaux’s National Memorial African Bookstore. The bookstore became a place for people to meet, talk, and educate themselves. Through the years, famous people were spotted browsing through the store like Zora Neale Hurston, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and others. Told through interviews, photos, and documents, No Crystal Stair is the fictional account of the life of Lewis Michaux.

When it comes to telling you how I feel about this book, I’m almost speechless. If it wasn’t for the author deciding to spent years writing Michaux’s story, I probably wouldn’t have ever heard of this man and his influential bookstore.

We are in a time where indie bookstores are closing all over the country and it’s becoming harder to find a neighborhood bookish spot to patron. It was a similar atmosphere in 1930s Harlem when Michaux got the idea of starting his bookstore. Though at the time, there was a huge population in Harlem, there wasn’t a bookstore (or any mention of one in the book). Michaux believed that for people to understand the world around them, reading was the answer. He went up against so many people who didn’t believe in the power of reading or that Michaux would make any money. And at first, they were right. For the first several years, he didn’t make any money. He washed windows and did odd jobs around the neighborhood.

Finally, business finally picked up and people came in droves to buy books. If customers couldn’t afford a book, they were free to read it in the back. To Michaux, knowledge was power and it was important for everyone to have the opportunity to read books by and about people that looked just like them.

There are details missing about Michaux’s beginnings like what year he was born in or exactly when was his bookstore started, so Nelson turned this biography into a fictional account. But she did give readers photos and newspaper clippings from that time along with transcripts from interviews with people who knew Michaux best.

I’m so grateful that Nelson, who is the great-niece of Michaux, decided to write her great-uncle’s story.  I’m also grateful to the publisher, Carolrhoda Lab, for taking a chance on this subject and publishing No Crystal Stair. If you like reading about books, or always dreamed of owning your own bookstore, this is the book for you. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Review: Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

Chopsticks

Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

272 Pages

Published in February 2012 by Razorhill books, an imprint of Penguin Group

Source: Library

Gloria “Glory” Fleming is a world-famous pianist, who sells out concert halls all over the world. She’s also only seventeen. Her days are filled with practice as demanded by her father, Victor. It’s all she knows until Francisco Mendoza moves in next door. Now Glory’s world is filled with not only music but art, late-night movies, and text messages. She’s finally becoming a normal teenager. After a while, Glory falters because of her father’s demands and is unable to play anything but the song “Chopsticks”. Everything is not what it seems and when Glory disappears, it’s time for everyone –Victor and readers – to figure out what really happened in Glory’s life.

I picked up Chopsticks because I heard a lot of positive things about it on Twitter. The bloggers, who have read it, didn’t say much about it except that more people should read it. After reading this book, I understand so I won’t tell you much about the plot. Chopsticks  is a love story but also a mystery. The mystery isn’t easy to solve, which I love, so you’ll probably have to read it twice. But it is a fast read.  If you’re a reader who shies away from YA because of melodramatic teenage angst, there’s none of that in this book. Readers of all ages can enjoy.

Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral give this unusual teenage story a great format. It’s told through not only words but also postcards, text messages, newspaper articles, piano recital programs, and more. The format reminds me a lot of The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt. I was left wondering what kind of novel I should call this. Is it right to call it a graphic novel? I called Frankie Pratt a “scrapbook novel” but Chopsticks doesn’t fit that description. Maybe it should be called a “novel in collage”? Either way, I would love to see the authors write more novels in this new format.

If you’re looking for a great read in a unusual format, Chopsticks is your book. My rating: 4 out of 5.

Review: Too Late by Clem Martini

Too Late
Clem Martini
57 pages
Publisher: Annick Press
Source: Publisher
YA fiction

 

Everything I touch is dust, everything I touch crumbles, everything I do goes wrong.

In a story that’s only fifty-seven pages long, Clem Martini gives readers a story that is heartfelt, powerful, and like all good stories, observes the complexity of life by asking hard questions and giving no easy answers. A young boy is living in a facility for young offenders. Readers don’t know why or how this child is sent there. As the story unfolds we learn that the young boy is Greg, fifteen-years old, and sent to a facility for underage sex offenders after having sexually assaulted his stepsister. After a mentally draining meeting with counselors, his mom and stepdad, Greg runs away from camp.

This may sound like a depressing book but it’s really not. It is sad. The author asks a lot of hard questions that readers need to think about. Until this book, I didn’t think about what happens to these kids after they have committed a horrendous act at such a young age. Or what causes them to commit these acts to start with.

During the group therapy sessions that Greg has to attend, readers learn the stories of some of the other kids there and the abuse they suffered by family members. Readers learn about the sexual abuse that Greg himself endures as a child, his relationship with his family, and how Greg comes to be who he is and why he did what he did. Learning the stories of those who committed such horrible acts doesn’t take away any of the pain that their victims suffer or lessen the horror of the abuse. But this story can start a dialogue about sexual abuse and youth offenders.

Highly recommended.

 

Book Review: Poetry Speaks Who I Am

Poetry Speaks Who I Am
Edited by Elise Paschen and Dominique Raccah
172 pages
Publication Date: March 2010
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Source: Publisher

I’ve noticed that when I find a really great volume of poetry, it’s one that I’m dipping in and out of for months -even years- at a time. For the past five or six months I’ve been slowly working my way through the anthology, Poetry Speaks Who I Am. I might open up the book and reread one of my favorite poems “Perhaps the World Ends Here” by Joy Harjo before going to a random page and discovering Sonia Sanchez’s “Haiku” or re-reading Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the Thing with Feathers”. This is an anthology that has spent a lot of time on my nightstand.

Poetry Speaks Who I Am is an anthology of poetry that compiled with teenagers in mind. It’s a book that includes poems about various subject matters from bra shopping to discovering poetry for the first time, fr0m race to experiencing the loss of someone special. Though I found a few poems that dealt with subject matters that I felt to be a bit juvenile, I kept in mind that I’m not the target audience and really enjoyed the book as a whole. Another bonus is that the book includes a CD so readers can hear the poets read their own work.

There were poems written by poets such as John Keats,  Molly Peacock, Edgar Allan Poe, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sherman Alexie, June Jordan and more. You don’t have to be a big poetry reader to enjoy the anthology.  I think this is a great introduction to poetry for teens who don’t normally read poetry for pleasure and those who already enjoy reading poetry.

Highly recommend.

Series Launch: Single Voice

Today is the launch day for a new YA series from Annick Press called Single Voice. What’s different about this series is that the featured novellas were originally published in France and talks about the tough issues that some teens face in a way that doesn’t hold back.  So far the series includes six novellas, two in each volume in a back-to-back flip-book format.

Annick Press was kind enough to let me participate in the launch by reviewing Just Julie by Nadia Xerri-L.

Just  Julie.
By Nadia Xerri-L.
Annick Press
2009
67 pages
Source: Publisher

Confused. Lost. Out of control. That’s the perfect way to describe Julie emotionally.  Alex, her favorite brother, has spent the past two years in jail, awaiting trail for murder. Julie may know what really happened on that fateful night when a boy was stabbed in a bar but who can she tell? Not her family who wants to believe that once the trial is over everything will go back to normal. Julie is alone with her secret but soon she has to decide to tell what she knows or stay silent forever.

When I read the book the first time, I just plowed through it. At less than 70 pages with lots of spacing, it was easy to do so. I was interested in the story and I wanted to know more about the main character. The readers get a glimpse of Julie’s family life but those characters aren’t fleshed out as much as I would have liked them to be. Her father is controlling, her mother’s passive, and her other older brother, Felix, is so invisible that I really didn’t see a need for him to be in the story.

There are parts of the book that I felt were jerky, sentences and paragraphs that I didn’t understand that were left in the story. But overall I felt the book was a good one. With the story so interesting, I’m sure young adult reluctant readers would gobble this book-and the rest of the series-up.

Here’s a passage in the book that I postmarked:

To have the right to be noticed, you have to have something special about you, a little extra, a little sparkle. I don’t have that little sparkle. Even if Alex helps me with my outfits. You can buy that sparkle; you can’t put it on in the morning. And ever since I was born, that something special, that something extra-I’ve just never had it.

Other blogs that are participating in the Single Voice series launch:

Up the Tower of Books

Hey! Teenager of the Year

GreenBeanTeenQueen

Cindy’s Love of Books

The Book Muncher

Sunday Salon: Read-a-thon Recommendations

I asked Doret from The Nappy Happy Bookseller to recommend a few great titles in time for the upcoming 24-Hour Read-a-thon. Instead Doret did more than that, she sent me a huge list of books that sounds really good and perfect for the event. I know I’m adding a few books to my TBR pile for the read-a-thon!

When Vasilly asked me to do a guest post of titles featuring kids of color for the upcoming read-a-thon. I was like of course. Since this is for a read-a-thon, I’ve broken this up into two parts. Great books less than 210 pages and books over 210 pages that are hard to put down. Hopefully you will find a few titles of interest.

Great Books less than 210 pages


The Way a Door Closes. 52 pages. Or Keeping the Night Watch. 80 pages. by Hope Anita Smith. Both novels are written in verse. Perfect for April. In the first on CJ must deal with his father leaving. In the follow up, CJ’s father returns. Smith writing is beautiful and its easy to lose yourself in her words.

After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson. 176 pages. There are many Woodson novel I could’ve suggested but I went this Newbery Honor title. One summer three girls are connected through Tupac lyrics. Woodson is very skilled at creating characters and moments readers will remember.

I Wanna Be Your Shoebox by Cristina Gracia. 208 pages. I love this novel so much. Yumi Ruiz Hirsch is Cuban, Jewish and Japanese. She’s also surfer/skaterboarder, classical clarinetist, who loves good rock (Ramones), and she plays a decent bass guitar. Garcia refused to limit who Yumi was and who she could become. The summer is over, Yumi is returning from Surfer’s camp, she’ll be entering the 8th grade. Yumi’s lives with her mother. Her parents have been divorced since she was one. Yumi is very close to Saul her Jewish grandfather. Saul is 92 and dying of cancer. Yumi ask Saul to tell his story and he does.

Bobby vs Girls (Accidentally) by Lisa Yee. 160 pages. Bobby Ellis Chan is looking forward to starting fourth grade. His best friend is Holly Harper. Though they’re at that awkward age when boys and girls don’t mix so its a secret. I loved Bobby and his family. I really appreciated the author going against gender norms. Bobby’s dad is a former professional football player, turned stay at home dad. He’s trying to defeat static cling but has taken to the new job. Bobby’s older sister is the QB on her high school football team. After Bobby’s pet fish dies, he cries. It very rear to see a boy cry in the open. I thought Yee did a wonderful job with this scene and the set up for it. Bobby starts telling his secrets to Rover. A child who has lost a pet will understand Bobby’s tears and won’t think he shouldn’t be crying because he’s a boy.

Bird by Zetta Elliott. 58 pages. Mehkai goes by the name Bird, this is his journal. Each entry is a poem. A lot is going on in Bird’s life. His grandfather recently passed. His older brother Marcus has become addicted to drugs. Birds writings and drawings give him the opportunity to heal. Bird remembers the good times he shared with his grandfather. He writes about his brother’s artistic talent. Through Bird’s words you can feel how much he loves his family and looked up to his older brother. Its not all happy, there is some anger and sadness. I loved Elliott’s writing, the simplicity made it that much better. As I continued to read Bird and his family became more real. Marcus is not painted as a villain. He’s lost but still loves his younger brother. Strickland’s illustrations enhance the story. The illustrations allow the reader to enjoy Bird’s words that much more. Many families are affected by addiction. Elliott has written a book that will enable the youngest family members to talk about their feelings. Young readers will easily relate to Bird’s words.

Chess Rumble by G. Neri. 64 pages. There was much to love about Chess Rumble. This is Marcus’s story told in verse. Marcus is filled with anger, after his sister’s death and his dad leaving the family. He wants to fight everyone from his little brothers to his classmates. Latrell used to be Marcus’s best friend, now they hate each other. Marcus is a big kid, so to get under his skin Latrell calls him names like Fat Albert. Marcus gets into a lot of trouble at school and his teacher, Ms. Tate is frustrated. Finally instead of the regular punishment, Ms Tate tries something new, introducing Marcus to CM. CM teaches young men to play chess, so they can fight it out on the board. This wasn’t a quick fix, it still took time for Marcus to come around. It’s one of the things I loved about Chess Rumble, its seems more realistic that Marcus would be hesitant to trying chess. Neri has created a very believable character in Marcus. Young readers will be able to relate to Marcus, everyone understands anger. Neri’s writing is great, he does not waste a word.

Alvin Ho Allegric To School, Girls And Other Scary Things by Lenore Look. 176pgs. Alvin is going into the second grade, and is afraid of pretty much everything. Alvin does a lot of talking at home but at school he can’t say a word. I loved this book, from the opening page Alvin Ho is a character you’ll want to know. The story begins with Alvin listing six things we should know about him. He also introduces his older brother, Calvin and younger sister Anibelly. Alvin’s voice is real, fun and thoughtful, young readers will love it. He’s shares his anxiety about school and making friends. I know I am making this book sound serious, and it is partly but the authors does it with a fun light touch.

The White Bread Competition by Jo Ann Yolanda Hernandez. 208 pages.  It’s the 90’s in San Antonio, Texas and Luz will be the first Latina to represent her state in the national spelling bee. White Bread Competition is made up of 10 interlinked stories that lead up to the big event. One of my favorite stories was Mixing the Ingredients. Luz’s grandmother Aura, tells her something bad will happen if she enters the spelling bee. Rosaura confronts her mother for telling Luz such hurtful things. This story reads like a song, the movement is beautiful. Hernandez brings the reader closer to mother and daughter. The author does an excellent job of drawing all the characters, making the reader care.

Confetti Girl by Diana Lopez. 208 pages. I really enjoyed this story. From the beginning Lina’s voice is strong, honest with a hint of humor. Lina’s best friend Vanessa lives right across the street. The two friends are dealing with parents who are not at their best. Lina’ mother died recently, and her dad doesn’t know how to connect with her. Vanessa’s father left her mother, now she hates men and won’t stop watching Lifetime movies. Lina and Vanessa look out for each other. Their friendship along with Lina herself, are the heart of this story.

Any book from Angela Johnson’s Heaven Trilogy. 131 pages. Heaven, First Part Last or Sweet Hereafter. In First Part Last Bobby’s girlfriend Nia tells him she is pregnant on his 16th birthday. The novel looks at teenage pregnancy from the boy’s point of view. Many things contributed to the beauty of this story, one is Johnson’s less is more approach. Only 131 pages and it hits as hard as a book twice its size, maybe more so – there is a reason and a need for every word. And oh my the ending. I was not prepared. No one told me there would be tears. By I time I figured out was going on it was too late, Johnson had already captured my heart.

Pemba’s Song by Marilyn Nelson and Tonya Hegamin. 107 pages. Song is a slim book and beautifully done. The size of the book doesn’t allow for excess which is a plus for me. I enjoy staccato style , where author must hit each word right and hard. The book opens with 14 yr old Pemba writing in her journal. Pemba and her mother moving from Brookyln, NY to Colchester, CT. Pemba is not happy about the move, but luckliy she has her journal to comfort her. The first person they befriend in Colchester is Abraham, an older gentleman who researches the towns slave history. In the house they move into Phyllys, a dead girl reaches out to Pemba. Pemba and her mother are the first black people to live in the house. Phyllys lived and died as a slave there, and waited a long time to tell her story.

M+O 4Ever by Tonya Hegamin 176pgs. Opal and Marianne were best friends before their first steps. Somewhere along the way Opal fell in love with Marianne. Before Opal could save Marianne, she commits sucide. Opal uses her memories and family to come to terms with her loss. Hegamin doesn’t use the loss of the main character as a crutch. She makes the reader feel not with a loss but rather their words.

The Fold by An Na (192 pgs) I really enjoyed The Fold. Joyce goes back and forth about having the surgery that will make her eyes look bigger and give her a more American look. The Fold will have a reader laughing, while considering what beauty is and what they’re willing to change for it. Joyce is a very likeable and real character. An Na surrounds her with a wonderful caring family and a great best friend in Gina.

Books over 210 pages that are hard to put down.


The Brothers Torres by Coert Voorhees – I loved this book. This is the story of 16 yr old Frankie Thomas. The younger brother who must work at his families restaurant while his older brother, Steve gets a soccer scholarship, the girls and a car. Voorhees created a character in Frankie Thomas that many people can get behind and relate to. He’s in his older siblings shadow, he’s a sophomore trying to psych himself up to ask a girl to homecoming. Frankie must also decide what type of man he wants to be. This is a very well told with a strong beginning that will capture many reluctant readers. Voorhees doesn’t try to do too much with The Brothers Torres, simply tells Frankie’s story- thats one of the things that makes this novel so good. The Torres family lives in New Mexico. Frankie’s tells us a lot about their small town Borges, its history and the people who live there.

A La Carte by Tanita Davis – Many of you might be familiar with Davis most recent novel Mare’s War. So I thought I’d point out her first YA novel. 17 yr old Elaine (Lainey) lives in the Bay Area with her mother who is co owner of La Salle Rouge restaurant. Lainey is pretty good in the kitchen as well and dreams of having her own vegetarian cooking show. A la Carte is about much more then a girl who wants to be a chef. Its also about a teenage girl who falls for the wrong guy. I loved this book because Lainey refused to let a boy use her.

Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves – This story is beautifully strange. I loved it. It beings with 16 yr old Hanna arriving in her mom’s home town of Portero, Texas for the first time. The two have never meet. After an incident with her aunt Hanna needs a new place to call home. She has her mind set on Portero. Hanna’s mother, Rosalee does her best to discourage her daughter, it doesn’t work. Hanna quickly learns Portero is a far from normal town. Students are turned into statues, and monsters can take people right off the streets. She fits right in.

Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Saenz.I loved this one hard. Sammy Santos is one of the best three dimensional young adult male protagonist I’ve read in a long time or ever. Sammy’s Hollywood is his barrio in New Mexico, circa 1969. Juliana is his friend, the girl he loves and the girl he wants to save. Though this book is so much more, we meet Sammy and his friends there junior year of high school. This is about their life in Hollywood. Every single character in well thought out and well crafted. The author allows the reader to feel and taste Sammy & Julina’s world. Its always easy to spot an author who is a poet. Sure enough I got that feeling, so I flipped to the front , the author has published poetry as well. Saenz, finds words for moments that I thought had no words. He catches the lines between the lines.

Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim. 15 year-old Nina Khan is a Pakistani Muslim girl who wants to obey her parents and have a little fun. Some YA second generation Americans books fall into a cliche trap, where the main character must excel in academics and have strict parents they hate plus a one dimensional story line. In this debut novel Karim finds a beautiful balance avoiding the predictable. I also love that the author took the time to fully develop Nina’s best friends Bridget and Helena with distinguishable personalities. Through their friendship we learn more about Nina, who is fun, smart and hairy. When puberty hits Nina goes into over drive.

Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins. Set in India 1970’s. After Asha’s father has lost his job, he heads to NYC in search of new opportunities. Asha, her older sister Reet and mother will go live with their father’s brother and his family in Calcutta. Asha is the athlete, Reet is the beautiful one. Asha is continually being put down for being too dark. The sisters don’t let how others see them effect their relationship. The Calcutta house is filled with family. Asha finds privacy on the the roof to write in her journal. Perkins has written a wonderful novel with three dimensional characters that readers will love.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia. It’s 1968 and three sisters, 11-year-old Delphine, 9-year-old Vonetta and 7-year-old Fern, will be spending the summer with their mother in Oakland, CA. The sisters attend the Black Panther summer program. I smiled my way though this book. It’s filled with an honesty I love to see in middle grade fiction. The sisters are simply beautiful. There isn’t much middle grade historical fiction featuring Black characters that at some parts warm your heart making you laugh out loud, then just as quickly teaches something. I wish this book was around when I was younger, I would’ve swallowed it whole.

Leaving Glorytown by Edurado F. Calcines. Eduardo’s family lived in the city of Cienfuegos, settled in a barrio know as Glorytown. By the time the Calcines family boards the plane for America you feel their loss, hope and excitement. This book fills an important void since there aren’t many books about Castro and Cuba for young readers. Eduardo was only three when Castro came into power in 1959. He lived with his parents and younger sister and surrounded by extended family. Eduardo is very close to his family especially his grandparents. Besides the family relationships, I loved Eduardo’s friendship with his cousin Luis and brothers Rolando and Tito. The fact that the brother’s father was a communist matter not. The four were very close all dreaming of there own kind of freedom. Eduardo talks of the changes that came to Cuba when Castro came into power. The long lines and food rations. People being unjustly arrested. The loudspeakers installed around the city, so The Voice could speak for hours. How families throughout Cuba were torn apart.

Shine Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger.  17 year-old Samar (Sam) lives with her mother in New Jersey. Sam’s mother felt too restricted by her Indian parents, cutting all family ties. Sam knows many things but she is clueless about her Indian heritage. Her mother made it a point to stress their sameness, so the two have fully assimilated into Western culture. Everything changes when Uncle Sandeep knocks on their door, seeking out this lost family branch after the attacks of 9/11. Sam doesn’t know what to make of this turban-wearing man at her door but she quickly deems him a nice guy. With Uncle Sandeep entering Sam’s life again she wants to know more about what it means to be an Indian Sikh. I really enjoyed Shine Coconut Moon. Meminger’s writes with wonderful ease.

Hot Girl by Dream Jordan. This is a must read for fans of Coe Booth. Kate has spent all of her 14 years in the foster care system. She’s book smart, street smart, funny, quick and observant. Her life is finally starting to turn around, she’s left her gang, stopped hanging with the wrong crowd, started controlling her temper and is getting A’s in school. She befriends Naleejah, a hot girl, who makes over her tomboy image. Kate’s quick wit had me laughing out loud. She doesn’t let being in foster care keep her from dreaming and setting goals. I loved watching this character stay true to herself.

Upstate by Kalisha Buckhanon. IMO this is a classic. Buckhanon proved urban fiction for teens can be written with style and beauty and still capture reluctant readers. A young couple must keep in touch via letters, when the boy is sent to prison for killing his father. Though the truth eventually comes out. At the end the author allows the reader to see the young couple as adults, still I wanted more, the writing is just that good.

8th Grade SuperZero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich. In the author’s bio we learn that Rhuday-Perkovich studied with Paula Danziger and Madeleine L’Engle. I believe this fact shows itself early on in this well layered debut novel.. After an incident on the first day of 8th grade, Reggie is called Pukey. Reggie is doing is best to lay low. His best friends are Ruthie a young revolutionary and Joe C, an artist. There aren’t enough contemporary middle grade novels with a main character of color that’s male. I love Reggie for many reasons. One of the biggest is that he’s Jamaican. The author doesn’t make this an issue of it nor does she ignore it.

I know even after the read-a-thon, I’m still going to come back to this list for recommendations. So what about you? Are you participating in the upcoming read-a-thon? Are you still getting your pile of books ready?

Book Review: Crazy Beautiful

Crazy Beautiful (2009)
Lauren Baratz-Logsted
193 pages
Young Adult
Rating: Re-read

Instead of just giving you the regular book review format, I’m giving you five reasons why Crazy Beautiful is a great book and why I think you should give it a try.

Reasons why I love Crazy Beautiful by Lauren Baratz-Logsted:

1. Great characterization. The main characters, Lucius and Aurora, are a blast to read about. After losing his arms in an explosion of his own doing, Lucius and his family moves to a new town for a fresh start. Aurora Belle is also getting a new start in the same town with her father after losing her mother to cancer. The instant they see each other it feels as if they’ve always known each other. The problem: Lucius is deemed crazy by everyone except Aurora and her father while Aurora becomes the new addition to the popular crowd.

2. It’s about seeing the good in people, knowing who you are and being that person instead of what’s easier for others to deal with.

3. The story is so addictive that I read this book in one sitting. It’s not often that a book makes you drop everything you need to do and read it. The reader almost instantly starts to care about the characters. You want to know as much as possible about them.

4. The book is sparse, giving the reader only the details needed for the action to keep going.

5. This book has made Lauren Baratz-Logstead one of my newest favorite authors. I will definitely be checking out her other books.

Have you read this yet? If so, please let me know so I can link to you.

Locomotion

woodson locomotionLocomotion (2003)
By Jacqueline Woodson
112 pages

I found out about this book from Emily over at Emily Reads. Emily writes reviews in haiku format but they always pack a punch. After reading her haiku review for Locomotion and it’s follow up, Peace, Locomotion, I had to get my hands on it.

Lonnie Collins Motion, also known as Locomotion, is seven and his little sister, Lili, is four when their parents are killed in a house fire. After being moved from place to place, Lili is given a foster mom who doesn’t want to take Lonnie too. Lonnie is put in group homes before finally being placed with someone who wants him, the older Mrs. Edna.

Four years later Lonnie lands in Ms. Marcus’s fifth-grade class. Ms. Marcus shows Lonnie how to write down his thoughts and feelings in his poetry notebook. He writes of missing his parents, living without his baby sister, playing with friends, the things that make up his life.

Written in verse,  Locomotion is a touching reflection on the heartbreak that Lonnie feels. I cried many times while reading this book but that’s not to say that it’s depressing. Lonnie’s heartbreak is one that anyone who’s lost family would feel. Another great thing about the book is the everyday moments that reminds you how precious life is.

You know honeysuckle talc powder?
Mama used to smell like that. She told me
honeysuckle’s really a flower but all I know
is the powder that smells like Mama.
Sometimes when the missing gets real bad
I go to the drugstore and before the guard starts
following me around like I’m gonna steal something
I go to I go to the cosmetics lady and ask her if she has it.
When she says yeah, I say
Can I smell it to see if it’s the right one?
Even though the cosmetics ladies roll their eyes at me
they let me smell it.
And for those few seconds, Mama’s alive
again.

Woodson has created such an authentic character. I didn’t believe for a second that this wasn’t the voice of a child who’s growing and learning, grieving and trying to make sense of all that has happened to him and his family. It’s not surprising that Locomotion was a 2003 National Book Award finalist for young adult literature. Though it’s been stated that this is a book for kids ages nine to twelve, I think this book is for ages nine and up. My fear is that by labeling this book for a certain age group, teens and adults will think this book is not for them and that’s not true. Don’t miss out by not reading this book. It’s in the top three of my favorite books of 2009 so far.

The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine

lurieThe Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine (2008)
April Lurie
224 pages
Young Adult

Dear Chris,

After reading this book, I searched through the Nerds Heart YA group posts to see who’s the genius behind nominating this book for the tournament. And it’s you! I couldn’t believe it. Well, yeah, I could. I mean you’re constantly adding books to my TBR pile all the time. But it was you! You’re my hero!

If you hadn’t nominated this book for the tournament I doubt I would have picked it up. I was too busy zoning out studying that I missed your post about it. I’m starting to realize how great many of the books that have been nominated for the tournament are. The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine is a book I want to put in the hands of every blogger I know.

Dylan Fontaine is a guy in the middle of the chaos that he calls life. His mom left the family for another man, his father works all the time as an obstetrician, and his older brother, Randy, is a weed-head who refuses to use an ounce of the talent he has. It’s Dylan who tries to keep everything going by cooking, cleaning, and trying to keep his brother out of trouble. On top of all that Dylan is in love with his best friend, Angie, but is scared to tell her how he feels.

Chris, this book is a page-turner. I sat in my living room the other day and ignored everything to read it. Sex, drug arrests, running from the police, fights. . . this book had everything but boy-on-boy kissing. (Too bad.) All those things aren’t there just to keep the story interesting, they help Dylan figure out who he is. Who is Dylan Fontaine in the middle of all these roles he play to keep from living his own life?

I read your review, Chris, and I agree with you that there is so much to this book that to describe it, is to go on forever about it. Lurie did a fantastic job capturing the essence of adolescence while making readers care about every character in the book.

With Kelly judging the match up of  The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine against Leftovers by Sarah Weiss, I cannot wait until June 21st to find out which book makes it to the next round. Thanks for recommending this book.

-V

Other reviews by some great bloggers

Chris (of course)

Becky

The Ghost’s Child

hartnettThe Ghost’s Child (2008)
Sonya Hartnett
176 pages
Young Adult Fiction

Matilda, an elderly woman, comes home one afternoon to find a young boy sitting in her living room waiting for her. She has no idea who he is or what he wants. As they sit down for tea, the boy asks Matilda about the picture of her as a young girl on  her boat.

Matilda tells the story of her childhood and growing up as a young girl named Maddy. She was the daughter of a materialistic mother and a father who had to divide himself into two different people: the “Iron-man”, an important and wealthy member of the community who only wants to make money and “Daddy”, a man who loves his daughter and only wants her to be happy.

Matilda describes her childhood self as

an over-lookable child, doubtful and reluctant in her dealings with others, mousey as a mouse. She was easily hurt, deceived and dispirited.

After a year-long journey with her father all over the world to experience life for the first time, Maddy comes back changed and more sure of herself.

Soon she falls in love with a mysterious boy named Feather. They fall in love and though Feather wants to make Maddy happy, one day he disappears to the horizon and a place called The Island of Stillness. Unable to let Feather go, Matty learns to sail and goes off on an adventure to ask Feather for the answer to the only question she has. . .

I really enjoyed reading this book. The Ghost’s Child is a book that has to be read slowly. The book isn’t really plot-driven but focuses more on character-building: Matilda as an old woman and as a young girl named Maddy. One of my favorite things about this book was the language. There were so many passages that I marked to read again later.

I love this passage by Matilda on love:

The world changes when something in it is loved. Words become feeble. Colors glow. Every moment vibrates with possible importance. And the heart that loves wonders how it live, in the past, without loving-and it will live now, now that it loves.

What I didn’t like were the few times that were unbelievable. Maddy as a child was a little too mature. She understood too much about life though she hadn’t experience life yet. Here’s a passage from Maddy as a child:

In the black of night, however, she was wrung with fear. She did not want to be uncaring, and uncared-for. She did not want to spend her whole life taking steps in the darkest, the coldest, the most lonely direction. Yet how, she wondered, does one craft sturdy happiness out of something as important, as complicated, as unrepeatable and as easily damaged as a life?

A beautiful passage but from a child? The Ghost’s Child has few faults and all can easily be overlooked. This is a great fable about the lessons of love and letting go, beauty, and having the courage to live life as you see fit.

Highly recommended.

Books giveaway

nerdsheartya

There are two great giveaways being hosted right now because of the Nerds Heart YA tournament that started last Monday. Kelly at YAnnabe is giving away four copies of the books she has to judge for the tournament, The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine by April Lurie and Leftovers by Laura Weiss. Not only is Kelly is giving away two copies of each book, she’s also giving away a copy of the ARC, Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers, another book that’s being judged in the tournament.

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The second giveaway is being hosted by Jodie at Book Gazing. Jodie is giving away two copies each of the two books she has to judge, What They Always Tell Us by Martin Wilson and Last Exit to Normal by Michael Harmon. So two lucky winners will win a copy of each book. Jodie is also giving away a Powells gift card of $20.

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What are you waiting for? Go enter!

The Poet Slave of Cuba

This week didn’t turn out the way I imagined it to be. I had planned on turning in all assignments on time this week, get some reading in, and relax. Instead I caught a virus, maybe the flu, and ended up in bed for the last five days. I started feeling a little better yesterday. My youngest caught the virus last night and is miserable. Something tells me I won’t be at school next week. . .

Poetry cools me, syllables calm me
I read the verses of others
the free men
and know
that I’m never alone. . .
-The Poet Slave of Cuba

While I was taking care of my son this morning, I picked up The Poet Slave of Cuba from my nightstand. Written in verse by Margarita Engle, it’s the biography of Juan Francisco Manzano. Manzano was born a slave in Cuba. A favorite of his first master, Dona Beatriz, he had to follow her around like he was her own child, calling her Mama, and pretend he didn’t know his real mother. As Manzano grows up, he shows a wonderful gift for words. He can memorize any song, opera, play, poem in any language after hearing it just once. Dona Beatriz uses him as a parrot, going to the parties of slave owners and having to recite works by request.

My first owner was sweet to me
I was her pet, a new kind of poodle
my pretty mother chosen
to be her personal handmaid . . .

As an act of twisted compassion, Dona Beatriz sets Manzano’s mother free but not him, a child. She refuses to let him go until her death. But after her death instead of freedom, he is sent to be a slave of La Marquesta de Prado Ameno. Evil is not a strong enough word for her. A manipulative, sad, twisted person who finds nothing better in life but to focus on making Manzano’s own life hell. I won’t tell you the rest but there was one part that made me hold my breath.

It was the opening that made me check out the book.

My mind is a brush made of feathers

painting pictures of words

I remember
all that I see

every syllable

each word a twin of itself

telling two stories

at the same time

one of sorrow

the other hope

The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano
Margarita Engle (2006)
183 pages

Read for:
Young adult challenge
Year of Reading Dangerously – Feb.
Diversity Rocks
In Their Shoes
Year of Readers
2009 Mini-Challenge #3

Day Seven’s Summary

I finished reading Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan this morning. What a great read! It’s marketed towards the high school crowd, but after several references to the sitcom My So-Called Life, I knew this book is really for my generation.

The book is about the “five-minute” relationship between two strangers that turns into an unforgettable first date complete with great music, drunk loyal friends, ex-girlfriends from hell, and the possibility of new love.

I also finished Patti Digh’s Life is a Verb: 37 Days to wake up, be mindful, and live intentionallyy. It’s a great self-help book with tons of stories, exercises, examples and laughs to get you going. The inspiration for the book come from Digh’s father. Her father was diagnosed with lung cancer and died just thirty seven days later. This is not a book of sadness or grief, but one that celebrates life and the human potential fully. I cannot say enough about the book, but I can say this: go out and buy it now. Also go and check out Patti’s blog: http://37days.typepad.com/37days/