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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.

The Further Adventures of Arabella Ashby

19 Jul

Last night, David D. Levine spoke at Powells and introduced the second novel in his Arabella of Mars series to a very enthusiastic crowd.

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Publisher’s Summary: The thrilling adventures of Arabella Ashby continue in Arabella and the Battle of Venus, the second book in Hugo-winning author David D. Levine’s swashbuckling sci-fi, alternate history series!

Arabella’s wedding plans to marry Captain Singh of the Honorable Mars Trading Company are interrupted when her fiancé is captured by the French and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp on swampy Venus. Now, Arabella must find passage to an enemy-controlled planet in the middle of a war, bribe or fight her way past vicious guards, and rescue her Captain.

To do this she must enlist the help of the dashing privateer, Daniel Fox of the Touchstone and build her own clockwork navigational automaton in order to get to Venus before the dread French general, Joseph Fouché, the Executioner of Lyon.

Once on Venus, Arabella, Singh, and Fox soon discover that Napoleon has designed a secret weapon, one that could subjugate the entire galaxy if they can’t discover a way to stop Fouché, and the entire French army, from completing their emperor’s mandate.

It was a very entertaining evening that opened with Mr. Levine announcing that two books makes a series and every series needs a theme song – and he played a theme song for Arabella! This got the crowd excited for the read aloud from the book that came next and the short talk that followed. Next came a Q&A where Levine explained how he worked around the laws of physics, and where and how he changed human history. Finally, we were treated to a read aloud from the third and final Arabella book. We all promised to keep silent about it, so I can’t tell you anything other than I look forward to this third book.

 

Happy Bastille Day!

14 Jul

On July 14, 1789 a Parisienne mob stormed the Bastille, a notorious Parisienne prison. Considered a monumental moment in the French revolution, Bastille day (or La Fête Nationale) first became a holiday on 14 July 1790.

Since I won’t be in France this Bastille Day, I can, at least, read about it. And the perfect summer read for an armchair traveller  is I See London, I See France by Sarah Mlynowski.

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Publisher’s Summary:  I see London, I see France…I see Sydney’s underpants.

Nineteen-year-old Sydney has the perfect summer mapped out. She’s spending the next four and a half weeks travelling through Europe with her childhood best friend Leela. Their plans include Eiffel Tower selfies, eating cocco gelato, and making out with très hot strangers.

Her plans do not include Leela’s cheating ex-boyfriend showing up on the flight to London, falling for the cheating ex-boyfriend’s très hot friend, monitoring her mother’s spiraling mental health via texts, or feeling like the rope in a friendship tug of war.

In this hilarious and unforgettable adventure, New York Times bestselling author Sarah Mlynowski tells the story of a girl learning to navigate secret romances, thorny relationships, and the London Tube. As Sydney zigzags through Amsterdam, Switzerland, Italy, and France, she must learn when to hold on, when to keep moving, and when to jump into the Riviera…wearing only her polka dot underpants.

Vive la lecture d’été!

 

Other people’s lives

13 Jul

When I was in high school, mom volunteered at a shelter for women fleeing domestic abuse. She was shocked that it happened in “good families”.  She is still shocked by stories that she hears in the news about dysfunctional families.  As a teacher, I’ve seen, or heard, a lot of family stories. There is very little that shocks me anymore, but my heart breaks with every sad story I hear.

Gem and Dixie by Sara Zarr is the sort of story teachers know. Gem is the sort of kid a teacher encounters and miss because she tries to maintain a facade of normalcy. She doesn’t ask for help, even though she should. He dad has left and her mother

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Publisher’s Summary: Gem has never known what it is to have security. She’s never known an adult she can truly rely on. But the one constant in her life has been Dixie. Gem grew up taking care of her sister when no one else could: not their mother, whose issues make it hard for her to keep food on the table, and definitely not their father, whose intermittent presence is the only thing worse than his frequent absence. Even as Gem and Dixie have grown apart, they’ve always had each other.

When their dad returns home for the first time in years and tries to insert himself back into their lives, Gem finds herself with an unexpected opportunity: three days with Dixie—on their own in Seattle and beyond. But this short trip soon becomes something more, as Gem discovers that to save herself, she may have to sever the one bond she’s tried so hard to keep.

This is not a happy book, though it ends with hope. It certainly captures the instability of too many kids’ lives. It also reminds me of a few other books for adults.

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Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill

Goodreads Summary: At thirteen, Baby vacillates between childhood comforts and adult temptation: still young enough to drag her dolls around in a vinyl suitcase yet old enough to know more than she should about urban cruelties. Motherless, she lives with her father, Jules, who takes better care of his heroin habit than he does of his daughter. Baby’s gift is a genius for spinning stories and for cherishing the small crumbs of happiness that fall into her lap. But her blossoming beauty has captured the attention of a charismatic and dangerous local pimp who runs an army of sad, slavishly devoted girls—a volatile situation even the normally oblivious Jules cannot ignore. And when an escape disguised as betrayal threatens to crush Baby’s spirit, she will ultimately realize that the power of salvation rests in her hands alone.

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Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard by Liz Murray

Goodreads Summary: Liz Murray was born to loving but drug-addicted parents in the Bronx. In school she was taunted for her dirty clothing and lice-infested hair, eventually skipping so many classes that she was put into a girls’ home. At age fifteen, when her family finally unraveled, Murray found herself on the streets. She learned to scrape by, foraging for food and riding subways all night to have a warm place to sleep.

Eventually, Murray decided to take control of her own destiny and go back to high school, often completing her assignments in the hallways and subway stations where she slept. She squeezed four years of high school into two, while homeless; won a New York Times scholarship; and made it into the Ivy League. Breaking Night is an unforgettable and beautifully written story of one young woman’s indomitable spirit to survive and prevail, against all odds.

Exploring Ancient China

9 Jul

When I was at the Field Museum, almost two weeks ago, we were given the choice of special exhibits to see. As tempted as I was by the Tattoo exhibit, I chose the Hall of China exhibit because it is a unit I teach, but feel I don’t know as much as I should.

I recognize the features of Ancient China in Faith Erin Hicks’ The Stone Heart,  the second volume in her  Nameless City series.

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Publisher’s Summary:Kaidu and Rat have only just recovered from the assassination attempt on the General of All Blades when more chaos breaks loose in the Nameless City: deep conflicts within the Dao nation are making it impossible to find a political solution for the disputed territory of the City itself.

To complicate things further, Kaidu is fairly certain he’s stumbled on a formula for the lost weapon of the mysterious founders of the City. . . . But sharing it with the Dao military would be a complete betrayal of his friendship with Rat. Can Kai find the right solution before the Dao find themselves at war?

I have neither of these in my classroom library, but I think they are books I must add before September.

Crossing lines

7 Jul

Billed as a modern-day  retelling of Romeo & Juliet, Ronit & Jamil,  by Pamela L. Laskin is a novel in verse.

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Publisher’s Summary: Ronit, an Israeli girl, lives on one side of the fence. Jamil, a Palestinian boy, lives on the other side. Only miles apart but separated by generations of conflict—much more than just the concrete blockade between them. Their fathers, however, work in a distrusting but mutually beneficial business arrangement, a relationship that brings Ronit and Jamil together. And lightning strikes. The kind of lightning that transcends barrier fences, war, and hatred.

The teenage lovers fall desperately into the throes of forbidden love, one that would create an irreparable rift between their families if it were discovered. But a love this big can only be kept secret for so long. Ronit and Jamil must face the fateful choice to save their lives or their loves, as it may not be possible to save both.

To my mind, the book reminds me less of Romeo & Juliet than Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye, which came out in 1999.

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Publisher’s Summary: The day after Liyana got her first real kiss, her life changed forever. Not because of the kiss, but because it was the day her father announced that the family was moving from St. Louis all the way to Palestine. Though her father grew up there, Liyana knows very little about her family’s Arab heritage. Her grandmother and the rest of her relatives who live in the West Bank are strangers, and speak a language she can’t understand. It isn’t until she meets Omer that her homesickness fades. But Omer is Jewish, and their friendship is silently forbidden in this land. How can they make their families understand? And how can Liyana ever learn to call this place home?

Habibi  won the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award and it is one that I don;t have in my classroom library, that I now think I want to add. As much as I liked Ronit & Jamil,  there is some mature content that precludes me putting it in a 6th grade classroom library.

 

Calling all Hamilfans!

30 Jun

With the phenomenal  success of the musical Hamilton,  it was inevitable that we would see books about the eponymous hero.

I can make no comment on any of the nonfiction books, but I can tell you that I really enjoyed Melissa de la Cruz’s Alex and Eliza: A Love Story, which fictionalizes the story of how Alexander Hamilton met ad wooed Elizabeth Schuyler.

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From the  author’s website:  1777. Albany, New York.

As battle cries of the American Revolution echo in the distance, servants flutter about preparing for one of New York society’s biggest events: the Schuylers’ grand ball. Descended from two of the oldest and most distinguished bloodlines in New York, the Schuylers are proud to be one of their fledgling country’s founding families, and even prouder still of their three daughters—Angelica, with her razor-sharp wit; Peggy, with her dazzling looks; and Eliza, whose beauty and charm rival that of both her sisters, though she’d rather be aiding the colonists’ cause than dressing up for some silly ball.

Still, she can barely contain her excitement when she hears of the arrival of one Alexander Hamilton, a mysterious, rakish young colonel and General George Washington’s right-hand man. Though Alex has arrived as the bearer of bad news for the Schuylers, he can’t believe his luck—as an orphan, and a bastard one at that—to be in such esteemed company. And when Alex and Eliza meet that fateful night, so begins an epic love story that would forever change the course of American history.

Hardcore Hamilton fans and fastidious historians might not appreciate this fictionalized account, but it is a great book that lets the reader escape the woes of the present for a while and see what it took to meet and marry your soulmate during the Revolutionary War.

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