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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.

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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.

A stunning debut

10 Apr

If you follow YA, you’ve probably heard of The Hate You Give  by Angie Thomas. Maybe you’ve even read it. It you haven’t, you should. It deserves all the buzz it is getting.

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Goodreads Summary: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Maybe you’ve even read it. If you haven’t, you should. It deserves all the buzz it is getting. I couldn’t put it down.

There is a lot to love about the book. There is no slow build up. By page 12 you are right in the main problem. The scene with the police officer is so realistically written, I felt tense reading it, as though I were really there.

I loved Starr and she was a wonderfully written character, but the minor characters are equally well drawn. Starr’s parents are fabulous. So many YA novels have absent parents, but hers are an integral part of the story.  Her uncle, a  police officer, helps the reader see how complicated the issue of police and race really are. Starr’s school fiends will give non-African American readers an opportunity to wonder Have I ever done that? 

I bet this one will be a real contender for the Morris Award. But we won;t know that until late January.

 

 

TGIF: A Monday Retrospective

13 Feb

It was a tough week. I won’t go into all the details. Suffice it to say, I was looking forward to Friday night. And not for the reason you think. Yes, it was the end of difficult week, but it was the night that Leah Thomas and Len Vlahos were going to be at Powells in Beaverton!

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It was a small but devoted group of fans who assembled. For us, it was nice because it was less formal. I got to reconnect with Leah and chat with Len, both of whom were William C. Morris Award finalists in different years.

They talked a lot about how they came up with the ideas for their current novels:

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Publisher’s Summary: Fifteen-year-old Jackie Stone’s father is dying.

When Jackie discovers that her father has been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, her whole world starts to crumble. She can’t imagine how she’ll live without him . . .

Then, in a desperate act to secure his family’s future, Jackie’s father does the unthinkable–he puts his life up for auction on eBay. Jackie can do nothing but watch and wait as an odd assortment of bidders, some with nefarious intentions, drive the price up higher. The fate of her entire family hangs in the balance.

But no one can predict how the auction will finally end, or any of the very public fallout that ensues. Life as Jackie knows it is about to change forever . . .

In this brilliantly written tragicomedy told through multiple points of view–including Jackie’s dad’s tumor–acclaimed author Len Vlahos deftly explores what it really means to live.

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Publisher’s Summary:Ollie and Moritz might never meet, but their friendship knows no bounds. Their letters carry on as Ollie embarks on his first road trip away from the woods–no easy feat for a boy allergic to electricity–and Moritz decides which new school would best suit an eyeless boy who prefers to be alone.

Along the way they meet other teens like them, other products of strange science who lead seemingly normal lives in ways Ollie and Moritz never imagined possible: A boy who jokes about his atypical skeleton; an aspiring actress who hides a strange deformity; a track star whose abnormal heart propels her to victory. Suddenly the future feels wide open for two former hermits. But even as Ollie and Moritz dare to enjoy life, they can’t escape their past, which threatens to destroy any progress they’ve made. Can these boys ever find their place in a world that might never understand them?

Both have some odd things happening in their book ( a brain tumor as one of multiple narrators in Len’s book and the Blunderkids in Leah’s). I bought both books and got them personalized. I got an arc of Nowhere Near You at ALA and had already read it. I will send the autographed arc to my twin sister. I’m planning on reading Life in a Fishbowl this week during independent reading time at school.

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It was a really fun evening and a great way to end a long week.

Snow day reading

8 Dec

Ok, so maybe it is more like an anticipated freezing rain day. In any case, I get a day at home. Apparently I am on the every other day plan this week, having taken Tuesday off to see the orthopedist. He told me I don’t need surgery, which I’d hoped to hear and suspected, and,  to stop babying my knee. I sort of knew that, too.

While sitting in the waiting room, I started reading the first of the 2017 Morris Award books that I have yet to read.

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Publisher’s Summary:Three sisters struggle with the bonds that hold their family together as they face a darkness settling over their lives in this masterfully written debut novel.

There are three beautiful blond Babcock sisters: gorgeous and foul-mouthed Adrienne, observant and shy Vanessa, and the youngest and best-loved, Marie. Their mother is ill with leukemia and the girls spend a lot of time with her at a Mexican clinic across the border from their San Diego home so she can receive alternative treatments.

Vanessa is the middle child, a talented pianist who is trying to hold her family together despite the painful loss that they all know is inevitable. As she and her sisters navigate first loves and college dreams, they are completely unaware that an illness far more insidious than cancer poisons their home. Their world is about to shatter under the weight of an incomprehensible betrayal…

Right from the get go, Devlin had me because Vanessa’s older sister is named Adrienne, and I rarely see my own name in a book.

Though not very far into the book, I can see by the writing why the committee selected this as a finalist. The prose is very well-written and the characters, even the minor ones, are well-developed. I plan to spend much of my day off work with this beauty.

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