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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.

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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.

 

A Winter Break Fave

4 Jan

I have to go back to work today. It is a good thing I love my job,

Fortunately, I will have the lingering memory of one of my favorite Winter Break reads to soothe my heart.

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The main character in Jared Reck’s debut, Matt, is just an all around nice guy. He has nice friends, and a nice family. He is nice to his little brother. He isn’t the star player on his basketball team, but he aspires to it, and we know he will be in a few years.

As in many YA novels, something bad happens and he tries to deal with it on his own. What sets this one apart is how his family rallies to help him. It is a lot quieter than other debut novels, but it is wonderful.  Just a lovely, lovely book!

Publisher’s Summary: Seriously, how can you see a person nearly every day of your life and never think a thing of it, then all of a sudden, one day, it’s different? You see that goofy grin a thousand times and just laugh. But goofy grin #1,001 nearly stops your heart? 
 
Right. That sounds like a bad movie already.
 
Matt Wainwright is constantly sabotaged by the overdramatic movie director in his head. He can’t tell his best friend, Tabby, how he really feels about her, he implodes on the JV basketball team, and the only place he feels normal is in Mr. Ellis’s English class, discussing the greatest fart scenes in literature and writing poems about pissed-off candy-cane lumberjacks.

If this were a movie, everything would work out perfectly. Tabby would discover that Matt’s madly in love with her, be overcome with emotion, and would fall into his arms. Maybe in the rain.

But that’s not how it works. Matt watches Tabby get swept away by senior basketball star and all-around great guy Liam Branson. Losing Tabby to Branson is bad enough, but screwing up and losing her as a friend is even worse.

After a tragic accident, Matt finds himself left on the sidelines, on the verge of spiraling out of control and losing everything that matters to him. From debut author Jared Reck comes a fiercely funny and heart-wrenching novel about love, longing, and what happens when life as you know it changes in an instant.

 

Saints and Misfits

13 Nov

Sometimes, it is hard to speak up and be a Moxie Girl.

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In Saints and Misfists, by S. K. Ali, we meet Jana Yusuf, who is dealing with somone who is making unwanted advances.

Publisher’s Summary:
There are three kinds of people in my world:

1. Saints, those special people moving the world forward. Sometimes you glaze over them. Or, at least, I do. They’re in your face so much, you can’t see them, like how you can’t see your nose.

2. Misfits, people who don’t belong. Like me—the way I don’t fit into Dad’s brand-new family or in the leftover one composed of Mom and my older brother, Mama’s-Boy-Muhammad.

Also, there’s Jeremy and me. Misfits. Because although, alliteratively speaking, Janna and Jeremy sound good together, we don’t go together. Same planet, different worlds.

But sometimes worlds collide and beautiful things happen, right?

3. Monsters. Well, monsters wearing saint masks, like in Flannery O’Connor’s stories.

Like the monster at my mosque.

People think he’s holy, untouchable, but nobody has seen under the mask.

Except me.

This is another book that seems appropriate to the times. This is Ali’s debut novel and though it does a great job presenting Janna’s Muslim family as ordinary, it does take a while to get going. Fortunately, Janna is a likeable character and I really cared about her situation. People wonder why the women making accusations in the news didn’t say anything at the time. Janna helps us understand their vulnerability and fear.

Happy Book Birthday

24 Aug

On Tuesday, along with other members of the Beaverton Education Association executive board members, I attended a district event for new teachers. We greeted them, provided coffee, snacks and swag, and our president told them about how the union works. While handing out swag, we veteran teachers reminisced about teachers we’d mentored and how we feel like part of their family.

It is not unlike being a member of YALSA’s William C. Morris Committee. I feel as though I have a connection to the five authors we chose as finalists, and that is why I am excited to tell you that it is the book birthday of one of those authors.

Stephanie Oakes’ second novel, The Arsonist,  was released this week!

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Publisher’s Summary: Code Name Verity meets I Am the Messenger in this riveting YA novel from Morris Award finalist Stephanie Oakes, in which three points of view are woven together in a story that’s part Cold War mystery, part contemporary coming-of-age, and completely unputdownable.

This is a complex story. As each character narrates, your mind is trying to figure out how it all works. Oakes is crafty, telling us just enough from one character’s point of view in a chapter, then switching to another – a move that kept me reading.
Like her previous book, The Secret Lies of Minnow Bly,  the ending isn’t necessarily a happy one. But it is maybe the most realistic outcome we can hope for in a work of fiction.

A little bird told me to read this one

30 Jul

“Give me stretch-waist shorts and a T-shirt any day of the week, please.”

Oh, how I laughed when I read this line in Sally J. Pla’s debut middle-grade novel, The Someday Birds.  It describes my preferred summer wardrobe. And excellent summer wardrobe  choices isn’t the only reason why I like the main character, Charlie. He is a sensitive soul, clearly somewhere on the autism spectrum, but incredibly likable.

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In addition to sympathizing with his wardrobe choices, I connected with his seemingly irrational belief that things will be okay if he can see all the birds he and his dad recorded on their “Someday Birds List”.  When I was an exchange student in Denmark, I convinced myself I was a jinx because, just before I moved to my second host family, a family tragedy struck. A few weeks later, a second tragedy occurred. I understood neither were my fault, but I couldn’t help thinking they were.

Publisher’s Summary: Charlie’s perfectly ordinary life has been unraveling ever since his war journalist father was injured in Afghanistan.

When his father heads from California to Virginia for medical treatment, Charlie reluctantly travels cross-country with his boy-crazy sister, unruly brothers, and a mysterious new family friend. He decides that if he can spot all the birds that he and his father were hoping to see someday along the way, then everything might just turn out okay.

Debut author Sally J. Pla has written a tale that is equal parts madcap road trip, coming-of-age story for an autistic boy who feels he doesn’t understand the world, and an uplifting portrait of a family overcoming a crisis.

The Someday Birds is a debut middle grade novel perfect for fans of Counting by 7s and Fish in a Tree, filled with humor, heart, and chicken nuggets.

The mysterious new family member, Ludmilla, is a Bosnian war orphan with a connection to their father that Charlie and his older sister, Davis, want to uncover. When we finally hear her story, it is enough to break a reader’s heart, but brings everyone closer together.

This is a highly readable, beautiful story, full of humor and pathos – and it might just be a Newbery contender.

A Strong YA Debut

28 Jul

While Angie Thomas is getting a lot of media attention for her debut novel The Hate U Give,  there is another debut novel you should read that addresses issues of immigration, assimilation, violence, and drug dealing in Detroit.

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Publisher’s Summary:

In this stunning debut novel, Pushcart-nominated author Ibi Zoboi draws on her own experience as a young Haitian immigrant, infusing this lyrical exploration of America with magical realism and vodou culture.

On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.

But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.

Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?

American Street  is grittier than The Hate You Give.  Like Starr in The Hate U Give, the main character in American Street, Fabiola, is caught between two worlds. Woven throughout the narrative is Haitian Voodoo. And the narrative voice here is very strong. We spend a lot of time inside Fabiola’s head, where she is trying to make sense out of this strange world she finds herself in, and trying to find away to make her family whole again.

If you have read The Hate You Give,  be sure to pick up American Street.

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