Julia is NOT her parents’ perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s title. Now that Olga is dead, though, Julia is all her parents have left. And it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to understand that Julia wants to focus on her education, especially going away to college, instead of focusing on her family. The thing is, though, that Julia is pretty sure the “perfection” of Olga was a myth. She definitely played the part of the dutiful daughter well enough, living at home and spending her free time hanging out with extended family. But after Olga’s sudden and tragic death — she was hit by a semi while crossing the street — Julia found a few clues that Olga might not have been exactly who she seemed to be. Because Olga’s friends don’t seem to know anything, or at least won’t talk to Julia about what she found, though, she isn’t sure she will ever learn the whole truth.
I really loved how Sánchez walked us through Julia’s revelations about people and interpersonal relationships she had taken for granted all her life. Julia’s awakening insight into the rationale and motives of people around her, particularly her parents, was often aided by her memories of Olga as she navigated her own grief and guilt surrounding Olga’s death. And although she wasn’t a particularly likable protagonist, with all her whining and complaining, I was intrigued by Julia’s desire to stay true to herself while still “giving in” to her parents’ desires and attempting to honor her family and her cultural traditions. (If you are not familiar with Mexican cultural traditions such as the quinceañera, by the way, this book is an excellent primer.)
I recently went through the list of the YALSA 2018 Teens’ Top 10 nominees and made a plan to read all of the books I hadn’t yet read. There are 25 books on the list and I had only read 7 of them. Gah! While I recognize that I may not get it done before they announce the winners, what with all the other books I keep on adding to my TBR list, I figured I had to at least try! I had just finished my audiobook and this one was readily available to me, so I went for it. I didn’t even read any of the summaries before getting started with requesting books and audiobooks. I decided I would read them “blind” because they are included on the list of nominees and that is all I need to know to trust that I will enjoy them. My verdict so far?!? Wow! At a time when real world racial tensions are high and the “religious right” are working to pass laws that justify and allow for bigotry in the US, this book sometimes felt a bit too real and less like an escape.
In Erthia, there are many different races — Elves, Fae, Gardnerians, Icarals, Kelts, Lupines, Selkies, Urisks, Vu Trin, etc. — and they have all been raised with certain beliefs and prejudices about each other. Elloren Gardner is the granddaughter of the famed Gardnerian Black Witch, though she has been raised in seclusion and without any magical training. Why bother when she has no magical abilities of her own, right? When her uncle allows her to attend the illustrious Verpax University to persue her life-long dream of becoming an apothecary, he asks that she focus on her studies and promise him NOT to be wandfasted (think arranged marriage) until after she has completed her studies. Unfortunately, though, Elloren’s Aunt Vyvian would like nothing more than to wandfast her to a powerful Gardnerian in order to compensate for the girl’s lack of magic and to protect their family’s socio-political standing.
I appreciated the fact that Forest so thoughtfully explored stereotypes and prejudices. Though it was tough in the beginning of the story to see how accepting Elloren was of the racist ideals and stereotypes with which she had been raised, I think it was very necessary to set the stage for her awakening. From xenophobia and racism to misogyny and homophobia, this story line pushed Elloren/readers to challenge her/their pre-conceived notions and to see how people in power often try to skew people’s perceptions to suit an agenda. One of my favorite quotes was from Professor Kristian, when he was talking to Elloren about how history books written by different groups of people had very conflicting depictions of what actually happened:
Real education doesn’t make your life easy. It complicates things and makes everything messy and disturbing. But the alternative, Elloren Gardner, is to live your life based on injustice and lies.
I will never forget the moment when the twist in E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars made everything fall into place. My brain lit up, my eyes flew wide open, and I practically had to drag my jaw back up off the floor. So, when I realized that E. Lockhart had written another book with crazy twists and dark secrets, I just had to check it out. Somehow, though, I managed to miss the fact that the story was going to be told backwards. When I started listening to the audiobook, I literally thought my OverDrive app had malfunctioned and forgotten to play the parts in order. After all, most books don’t start with Chapter 18! After looking into it and confirming that it was, in fact, playing the parts in the correct order, I sat back to enjoy the ride. And what a ride it was!
I’ve said before that it’s rare for me to finish a book in a single sitting, or even in a single day… but to finish a nearly 7-hour-long audiobook in just over a day is quite a feat for this working mama! I had my headphones on at every opportunity as I found myself looking for solitary chores to complete — washing dishes, folding laundry, etc. I just had to figure out what exactly it was that Jule (using the name Imogen) was running from and how she ended up in a tropical paradise with money to burn. Beginning at the end of the story not only worked well for this thriller, but it even allowed for a completely shocking twist. I kid you not, I literally started the audiobook right over again and listened to the first few chapters to see what clues I may have missed! If you’re looking for a quick-paced thriller with a surprisingly charming villain, you have GOT to check this book out.
Reynolds and Kiely have written a fantastic primer and conversation starter for the #BlackLivesMatter movement. By alternating between two perspectives — Rashad, a victim of police brutality, and Quinn, who was both a witness and a close family friend of the officer involved — they even helped to address the #BlueLivesMatter rebuttal.
Rashad was a good kid. He did well in school, was in JROTC, and generally stayed out of trouble. All it took was one moment of confusion in a corner store for a police officer to think he was a thief and a punk who may have attacked an innocent woman. The next thing he knew, he was pinned to the sidewalk and getting pummeled. Mind blown and body battered, Rashad had to face both his physical recovery and his awakening to the racism that still existed within his country and even his own community.
Despite having witnessed the arrest/beating and [later] the videos that other people had captured, it was still very difficult for Quinn to process. He had always thought of Paul as a good guy. He knew that what he saw went over the line… And yet, how cold he turn his back on someone who had helped him so much when his own father died? With friends and family pressuring him to side with the officer and his conscience begging him to side with the victim, Quinn had some very tough decisions to make. Would he join the protest march? And could he live with himself if he didn’t?
After finishing Long Way Down, I knew that I had to read something else by Jason Reynolds, and the cover of this book jumped right out at me. I definitely wasn’t disappointed. I look forward to reading more from both of these great authors. After all, what’s a few more books added to my never-ending TBR list?!? 😉
With a gun tucked into the waistband of his pants, Will gets into the elevator of his apartment building and heads down to go and get his revenge. On whom? The person who murdered his brother, Shawn, of course. He knows the rules of the hood. “No crying. No snitching. Revenge.” So that is what he sets out to do. But, he doesn’t take the ride alone. At each floor, the elevator stops and a ghost gets on to ride along with him. As each ghost enters, they share their own story and how it relates to Shawn’s death. These stories help to provide a wider picture of how the cycle of violence in their neighborhood has been perpetuated thus far and, much like the computer’s epiphany in War Games, that the only way to win is not to play this game. But will this elevator ride be enough to change the heart and mind of a boy who has never known any other way?
Timely, thought provoking, and powerful. It’s no wonder this book has received so many awards.
Gem and Dixie have only ever truly had each other. And, since Gem was the older sister, she has always been more like a mom to Dixie. Their dad left town a long time ago — after their mom finally got sick of his drinking, drugging, and cheating on her and kicked him out. And though their mom was technically around, her presence didn’t count for much. She, too, struggled with addiction and rarely spent her wages on necessities like food. Because Dixie was pretty and popular, she didn’t worry too much about going hungry. Gem, on the other hand, was socially awkward and often felt the pangs of hunger — both physical and emotional. Despite the fact that they still needed each other as much as ever, the girls were growing apart. And then, their dad announced that he would be coming back. Dixie, who had always been somewhat sheltered from the reality of their situation, was elated to think that her father might come back and make everything better again. Gem, nevertheless, feared that his return to Seattle would mean nothing but more trouble.
I think this book was great for a couple of different reasons. One, it was a very realistic portrayal of neglect. Many people seem to think that neglect it is preferable to other forms of abuse, but I don’t think people realize just how damaging neglect can be. To read about Gem and Dixie’s experiences without gaining a little empathy would be extremely difficult. Second, I think this book might provide some much-needed hope to readers who have experienced or are currently experiencing neglect in their own lives. These kids need to realize that they are not alone AND that there is help out there for them. Though this book doesn’t play off as “happily ever after,” and perhaps *because* of this imperfect ending, I definitely think this is a good book to add to bibliotherapy lists for teens who are dealing with a history of neglect and/or family members who struggle with addiction.
Although I loved this story, I understand that it may not be for everyone. It jumps back and forth between the past and the present, and there are multiple points of view, so some readers might not be able to follow so easily. Plus, there isn’t much in the way of action and adventure, which might turn some people off. But there is love, and loss, and yearning, and learning about self and family and friendship. So much emotional depth! I hadn’t really heard anything about this book before I saw the audiobook was immediately available for download via my local library, but I did recognize Jenny Downham’s name because I recalled sobbing my eyes out as I read Before I Die. (I often search and see which YA titles are “available now” rather than searching specific titles because I like to find hidden gems and, well, I am impatient!) So, yeah… I decided to give it a go. And, boy am I glad I went for it!
Katie is seventeen and she is struggling with several things. First, and foremost, she is struggling with her sexuality. Not only is she not totally sure how she identifies, but she is being bullied at school because of it. On top of that, she has an overbearing mom (Caroline), who often needs her to help care for her special needs brother (Chris). And, as if that all wasn’t enough, she also discovers that she has a grandmother (Mary) whom she never really knew and who now requires a place to live and constant care because she has Alzheimer’s and her long-time partner/caregiver (Jack) just died of a heart attack. When Katie decides to record stories in a memory book, to try to help preserve Mary’s memories, she discovers so much more than family history and secrets. She uncovers a variety of reasons her mother is so up-tight and the realization that “truth” varies greatly with perspective.