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What if…

10 Apr

As a teacher, I generally don’t answer “what if” questions – they can really sidetrack what we are working on in class. As a reader, I love that authors tackle all sorts of “what if” questions.

In Internment, Samira Ahmed explores the question, “What if fear and hatred of ‘the other’ is allowed to fester and grow?”

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Publisher’s Summary: Rebellions are built on hope.

Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.
With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp’s Director and his guards.
Heart-racing and emotional, Internment challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today.
I was a little ticked at Layla’s recklessness in the opening scene, but it certainly sets her up as a character who would progress from small acts of personal rebellion to larger, more public, acts of resistance. Ahmed does a great job showing the fear that keeps detainees compliant and the mounting consequences for won’t comply. She also demonstrates how easily “good people” start to turn a blind eye, but how the strong voice of opponents of oppression can make a difference.

Rebel Librarians, Unite!

19 Dec

My sister told me about a book that wasn’t even on my radar.

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Although it has some classic debut novel imperfections, I loved it so much it is my current read aloud for my 6th graders, who can totally relate to June’s lack of control in her life, and her desire to do something slightly subversive.

 

Taking Action

1 Oct

This weekend, I read a book that simultaneously saddened me and provided a roadmap to healing. It was a sort of bibliotherapy after a tough news week.

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Publisher’s Summary: When everything has been taken from you, what else is there to do but run?

So that’s what Annabelle does—she runs from Seattle to Washington, DC, through mountain passes and suburban landscapes, from long lonely roads to college towns. She’s not ready to think about the why yet, just the how—muscles burning, heart pumping, feet pounding the earth. But no matter how hard she tries, she can’t outrun the tragedy from the past year, or the person—The Taker—that haunts her.

Followed by Grandpa Ed in his RV and backed by her brother and two friends (her self-appointed publicity team), Annabelle becomes a reluctant activist as people connect her journey to the trauma from her past. Her cross-country run gains media attention and she is cheered on as she crosses state borders, and is even thrown a block party and given gifts. The support would be nice, if Annabelle could escape the guilt and the shame from what happened back home. They say it isn’t her fault, but she can’t feel the truth of that.

Through welcome and unwelcome distractions, she just keeps running, to the destination that awaits her. There, she’ll finally face what lies behind her—the miles and love and loss…and what is to come.

There all sorts of ways to overcome trauma. This week we saw Dr. Christine Blasey Ford confront hers, again, publicly. Annabelle doesn’t want to be seen, and she can help readers begin to understand the guilt and shame that survivors feel. As she attempts to come to terms with the trauma she survived, Annabelle becomes a focal point and a rallying cry and she finds her voice.

Room for everyone

12 Sep

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The title and the cover  hooked me. The story and characters held me fast. Not a lot of books these days show teens really reflecting on the Christian faith. Don’t mistake my meaning, this isn’t Christian fiction by any stretch of the imagination. But we get to see teens who have faith, but struggle with it. Teens who are ardently atheists become more tolerant and understanding of those who believe in god. I feel like the book really shows that there truly is room for everyone – even an atheist at a Catholic school.

Publisher’s Summary: When Michael walks through the doors of Catholic school, things can’t get much worse. His dad has just made the family move again, and Michael needs a friend. When a girl challenges their teacher in class, Michael thinks he might have found one, and a fellow atheist at that. Only this girl, Lucy, isn’t just Catholic . . . she wants to be a priest.

Lucy introduces Michael to other St. Clare’s outcasts, and he officially joins Heretics Anonymous, where he can be an atheist, Lucy can be an outspoken feminist, Avi can be Jewish and gay, Max can wear whatever he wants, and Eden can practice paganism.

Michael encourages the Heretics to go from secret society to rebels intent on exposing the school’s hypocrisies one stunt at a time. But when Michael takes one mission too far—putting the other Heretics at risk—he must decide whether to fight for his own freedom or rely on faith, whatever that means, in God, his friends, or himself.

Darius is great

10 Sep

This weekend, I read Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram.

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It was a perfect read for a weekend. I got lost on Darius’ world of bullying in an American high school and getting to know his extended family in Iran.

Publisher’s Summary: Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s a Fractional Persian—half, his mom’s side—and his first-ever trip to Iran is about to change his life.

Darius has never really fit in at home, and he’s sure things are going to be the same in Iran. His clinical depression doesn’t exactly help matters, and trying to explain his medication to his grandparents only makes things harder. Then Darius meets Sohrab, the boy next door, and everything changes. Soon, they’re spending their days together, playing soccer, eating faludeh, and talking for hours on a secret rooftop overlooking the city’s skyline. Sohrab calls him Darioush—the original Persian version of his name—and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab.

There is so much I like about this book. First, of course, is Darius. He felt very real. In his afterward, Khorram talks about living with depression that is a very real part of a person’s everyday life, but is well-managed, and he has portrayed that extremely well in Darius. It isn’t an issue book about depression, but it really points out the realities of people who live with depression in a way I have never seen before.

Next is Yazd. The city of Darius’ family is a really a character in the book. I am the kind of nerdy reader who Googles as she reads. I looked up all the places Darius visited so I could understand what he was seeing.

Finally, there is Sohrab. What a beautiful friend. We should all strive to be as good a friend as he is.

Darius the Great is Not Okay lingered with me after I finished reading it – and that is a sign of a really good read.

Telling her story

20 Aug

I have book club tonight and I spent Sunday immersed in the motel world of Kelly Yang’s Front Desk.

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Since I was the one who recommended the book, I thought I should have it finished before we met.

Publisher’s Summary: Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.

Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.

Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.

Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?

It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?

I was worried that, having recommended a book I hadn’t read, it would be a dud. It was no such thing.

I recognized a lot of former students in Mia – children of immigrants whose lives are not easy. This book shows the power of words and the importance of telling your story. Sometimes we try to shelter children from hard truths, but many children face hard truths everyday, Yang drew on her own childhood experiences – some of which might shock readers –  to write this debut novel that gets to the heart of what it is like to be an immigrant to this country.

 

Friendship & Forgiveness

3 Dec

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The Ethan I Was Before, by Ali Standish, is a book I chose to add to my Mock Newbery Club list before I’d actually read it. It was getting some buzz and was on the lists of a few other people.

Publisher’s Summary: Life can be transformed in one moment, but does that one moment define you for life?

Lost in the Sun meets The Thing About Jellyfish in Ali Standish’s breathtaking debut. A poignant middle grade novel of friendship and forgiveness, The Ethan I Was Before is a classic in the making.

Ethan had been many things. He was always ready for adventure and always willing to accept a dare, especially from his best friend, Kacey. But that was before. Before the accident that took Kacey from him. Before his family moved from Boston to the small town of Palm Knot, Georgia.

Palm Knot may be tiny, but it’s the home of possibility and second chances. It’s also home to Coralee, a girl with a big personality and even bigger stories. Coralee may be just the friend Ethan needs, except Ethan isn’t the only one with secrets. Coralee’s are catching up with her, and what she’s hiding might be putting both their lives at risk. The Ethan I Was Before is a story of love and loss, wonder and adventure, and ultimately of hope.

My sense from the club members who have read Ethan is that they liked it well enough, but it isn’t top of their list. It reminded me a lot of Bridge to Terabithia. 

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