Most Wanted Reads for Spring

Since I missed yesterday’s Top Ten Tuesday, I’m just going to post 10 of my most anticipated reads for this coming spring, in no particular order. Enjoy!

Fiction

Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams (March 19)

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The Other Americans – Laila Lalami (March 26)

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A Woman is No Man – Etaf Rum (March 5)

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Lot – Bryan Washington (March 19)

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The Dreamers – Karen Thompson Walker (January 15)

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Nonfiction

Shout – Laurie Halse Anderson (March 12)

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The White Book – Han Kang (February 19, US Edition)

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What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker – Damon Young (March 26)

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Young Adult/YA

Internment – Samira Ahmed (March 19)

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With the Fire on High – Elizabeth Acevedo (May 7)

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Review: New Kid

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Review for "New Kid" by Jerry Craft (2019)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

This is a really cool middle grades graphic novel about school, race, family, and friendship.

The main character, Jordan (ironically, the name of my own son) is a 12-year-old kid who lives with his parents in the Washington Heights neighborhood of NYC. He loves gaming and drawing, and due to his good grades he begins to attend a wealthy prep school on financial aid, finding himself among the few students of color there. In his new school, Jordan finds that he has access to greater intellectual pursuits but at the same time he experiences an incredible amount of racism, mostly in the form of microaggressions by teachers and students alike.

The graphics and the art in this book are top-notch. Interspersed within the book are Jordan’s own sketches of his impressions of literature, art, and pop culture–which are quite humorous, to say the least. One of the most profound scenes towards the end is when Jordan eventually sees through many of his own prejudices and stands up for a fellow classmate.

Definitely buy this book. I’d recommend to adults and kids alike.

Review: A Few Red Drops

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Review for "A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919" by Claire Hartfield (2018)
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I’ve been meaning to read more YA nonfiction, hence my interest in this book.

Overall, I’m disappointed in this book. First, the storytelling here is a jumbled mess. Although I understand that the 1919 Chicago race riot involved many factors (the Great Migration of blacks from the south to northern cities, racism and segregation in those northern cities, immigration to the U.S. by Irish and eastern Europeans, tensions in labor unions, etc) the author does not seem to take her audience’s interest into account here. The riot is briefly touched on in the beginning, and the next 10-15 chapters are dedicated to the aforementioned subject matter (labor unions, the Chicago meatpacking industry, the Great Migration, etc). She doesn’t really explain how or why these chapters are critical to understanding the riot and the topics seem to jump here and there and all over the place. I can imagine that a typical middle grade reader will lose interest in this book quickly, particularly because the connection between subjects is not made apparent in the beginning.

Second, the quotes used here are not thoughtful or insightful to the text. There are quotes by writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson (a New England transcendentalist) and Carl Sandburg, but only one by Langston Hughes. Excuse me….but where is the W.E.B. Dubois? Or even Ida B. Wells-Barnett? If we are talking about a riot that left a disproportionate number of Black people among the dead, wouldn’t one want to include the words of the leading Black scholars of the day? It is interesting that the author spends much time discussing Wells-Barnett and her role as a journalist within the Black community of Chicago, yet doesn’t include one quote from her in the whole text. Did she even read her at all? Anybody vaguely familiar with history knows that Ida B. Wells Barnett wrote MUCH about the Chicago race riot. Why are none of her specific quotes here?

The writing isn’t very engaging either. Much of the last 40% of the book is sources, which is fine if its nonfiction, but there wasn’t much in the first 60% of the book that was particularly memorable.

Two stars. Zzzzz.

Review: The Good Demon

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Review for "The Good Demon" by Jimmy Cajoleas (2018)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Set in a small Southern town, “The Good Demon” is the story of Clare, a teenage girl who hasn’t been the same since her exorcism by a local preacher. The demon (named ‘Her’) wasn’t evil, but protected Clare from danger: the trauma of her dad’s death, her stepdad’s abuse, an attempted sexual assault. Her leaves behind a mysterious note, which Clare is compelled to follow. It reads: “Be nice to him. June 20. Remember the stories.”

Eventually, Clare falls for the son of the preacher who performed her exorcism. After following many clues, she learns about a secret cult in her hometown practicing a sinister form of magic. After a visit to the enigmatic cult leader, Clare is forced to make a choice to be reunited with her demon.

I liked the premise for this story. It’s very Southern gothic, with mystery and some fantasy thrown in for good measure. The tag line mentions True Detective (the first season, of course) as an inspiration and the plot is very much in that same vein, which I liked as well. The bad part is that it took me nearly two months to read this book, and that was no accident. I’d read 20-30 pages, lose interest, come back a few days later, repeat. Perhaps if there had been more character development I would have been more engaged, more history of the town. A lot of characters and situations here seemed thrown together and happenstance. Hmm.

Three stars.

Review: Paperback Crush

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Review for "Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of '80s and '90s Teen Fiction" by Gabrielle Moss (2018)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Nancy Drew. The Wakefield twins. The Babysitters Club. Christopher Pike. R. L. Stine. The Girls of Canby Hall.

Don’t forget the series. Always in an endless parade of series, people…

If you know any of the names above, you were an 80’s/90’s reader girly like me and read all things mass market, pop teen fiction. My favorite activity at the local mall (after copping a slice of Sbarro’s pizza) was going to Waldenbooks, finding a nice spot on the floor and deciding which paperback I was going to buy with my babysitting money to read that week. I collected these books and wouldn’t let anyone touch them, especially my baby sister at the time (who used to rip up books, yikes!).

“Paperback Crush” is a time machine back to that period, a dive into the history of teen fiction from the late 60s to the early 00’s. The format is excellent and easy to follow, there are tons of pictures of the books I definitely read and remembered. There’s also interviews with some of the authors who changed the game with more diverse characters and situations that teens were reading about. The book is split into categories that were also very interesting: love/sex, friendships, family, teen jobs/sleuthing, paranormal, danger, and so on. It’s a pretty broad overview of the development of the genre, complete with a beautiful gem of nostalgia.

This book also brought me back mentally to a time when much of the world to me was very “safe”–suburban, heterogeneous, heteronormative–and of course, White. Of course I still read the books regardless, but it took me back to the very real feeling I got (and still get) often as a Black girl reader: where was I? Why does no one in this entire book look like me? Sure there were characters of color here and there (i.e., Jessie and Claudia in the Babysitters Club), but they were generally ‘otherized’–mystical tokens in a sea of whiteness. This book barely scratches the surface of the deeper discussions of race, class, and representation in literature, which I wish had taken up a larger portion of the book.

I realize now that I owe a tremendous debt to pop teen fiction. Its where I learned not only how to read, but how to analyze, criticize, roll my eyes and yell out “oh please” when a character did something stupid. It made me the reader I am today.

Definitely get this one.

Review: Hey Kiddo

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Review for "Hey Kiddo" by Jarrett Krosoczka (2018)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Ayyy…first post of the New Year!! Happy 2019!

Heartbreaking but hopeful nonfiction graphic novel about the life of the author, Jarrett Krosoczka. After giving a TED talk about his upbringing and receiving an overwhelmingly positive response, he decided to create this book. I’m glad he did.

Jarrett was born in 1977 in Worchester, Massachusetts. His mother was young at the time of his birth and, as he would later find out, struggling with heroin addiction. His father’s identity remained somewhat of a mystery, Jarrett does not learn his name until he is almost a teenager. For a time when he is small, Jarrett lives with his mother, though she eventually turns back to heroin and criminal activity. At the age of 3 he goes to live with his grandparents, who despite their own rocky marriage, love and raise Jarrett with all of the nurturing he could ever ask for. They take him to visit his mother in jail and throughout her detox stays, answer his questions and see him through school, but most importantly they encourage his desire to draw, which he does to escape from the pain of not having a mom.

The novel follows Jarrett until he graduates from high school. Although he does eventually discover his dad and develop a relationship with him, he continues intermittent contact with his mother due to her drug addiction. Years later, as a successful and best selling author, he decides to share this story to connect with other people.

Anyway, I loved this book. It is YA, but deals with very adult issues. I imagine that it resonates with many people, particularly now due to the overwhelming prevalence of the opioid/meth epidemic. Even as a middle school teacher, I taught many students who were being raised by aunts and uncles and grandparents, mostly due to their own parents being incarcerated or simply gone, addicted to drugs.

Five stars. Don’t miss this.

Review: Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish

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Review for "Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish" by Pablo Carteya (2018)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Ah, I liked this book. It’s a great junior high/middle grades story of family, culture, and dealing with adversity. It’s also a love letter to the beautiful island of Puerto Rico, which I had the chance to visit back in 2016 before the hurricane. Because this book conjured up so many great memories for me, naturally I gravitated to this novel.

Marcus Vega is an 8th grader who is 6 feet tall. He uses his size to walk bullied kids to and from school, to impose a littering tax, and keep kids’ cell phones during the day–for profit. He lives with his single mom who works long hours at the local airport, and cares for his younger brother Charlie, who has Down Syndrome. When another student at school makes a comment about his brother, Marcus attacks him and is suspended from school. Marcus’ mom uses the break from school to visit family in Puerto Rico, the place where Marcus was born. Marcus, who came to the mainland as a young child, does not speak Spanish. He also barely remembers any of his family there, particularly his father. He becomes interested in traveling to the island to meet his dad for the first time.

Once the family is in Puerto Rico, Marcus discovers an entire culture, language, and way of seeing his world that he previously knew nothing about. While I won’t reveal the ending of this book, I did feel that the ending was satisfactory, though bittersweet. All in all I loved the scenery of this novel: the colorful streets of Old San Juan, the music, the culture, the chirping of the coqui, the language. Much of the Spanish spoken by the characters isn’t translated, which is ok. This is Puerto Rico’s story.

I highly recommend this book.