What would you do if your home country was no longer safe? If you were persecuted for your religion, if a lack of food in your country was causing violent riots, or if your neighborhood was being bombed? If you had to take only what you could carry and try to escape to a place you had never even visited before? If you had to risk death for the possibility of a better life? The scenarios faced by our narrators varied because they grew up in vastly different times and places — Josef in Nazi Germany (1930s) , Isabel in Communist Cuba (1990s), and Mahmoud in modern-day Syria (2015) — but all three of these children became refugees when their families felt that escaping their homeland was the only tenable solution.
I think that books like this are extremely important, since they often provide a better perspective than news stories. News stories about refugees tend to focus on the current situation, such as which countries might take them in, but not so much about how the situation escalated to the point that they sought refuge in the first place. One of the moments that really struck me in this story was when Mahmoud’s family was talking about relocating to Germany. Someone commented that it would be cold there and his father responded by singing, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” The inclusion of a song from such a popular/recent movie as Frozen will surely help readers to recognize that refugees are not only people from some time “before.” By humanizing these narrators and showing how they were normal kids up until they had to run for their lives. I can only hope that this story will help to cultivate better empathy for the plight of refugees and the realization that “there but for the grace of God, go I.”
Jazz Jennings has been in the public spotlight since she was interviewed by Barbara Walters — when she was only 6 years old. At the time, her parents had asked that their real name not be used so that they could better protect their daughter from people who would be upset by the interview. Why? Because Jazz was transgender. Though she was born with the anatomy of a boy, Jazz always knew she was *really* a girl. When she was 5 years old, her parents helped her to transition to life as a girl. And a year later, the famous interview with Barbara Walters took place. In the 11 years since that interview, Jazz has continued her brave work as an activist for the LGBTQ community by accepting high-profile interviews and speaking engagements, maintaining a social media presence, and writing memoirs to help transgender youth feel less alone while educating people who don’t truly understand the struggles of transgender youth.
I thought this would be a particularly relevant book to review during #BannedBooksWeek because her children’s picture book, I Am Jazz, is listed as the 10th most challenged book of 2017. I listened to the audiobook, which was narrated by Jazz herself, and I really enjoyed hearing Jazz tell her own story. She spoke with such courage and fortitude about her battles with bullying and depression. Though the picture book goes into much less detail than this YA memoir, many people are uncomfortable discussing gender identity with children. Hopefully, the tenacity and bravery of transgender people like Jazz Jennings will help to open the dialogue necessary to create better understanding so that transgender youth will no longer feel so much sadness and confusion as they evaluate how they want to express their gender identity.
Esta is a talented thief and a powerful Mageus who, though she can travel through time, is stuck in New York City. Why? Because the Order, a group that despises Mageus, has manipulated magic to created something called the Brink. Any Mageus who end up inside the Brink become stuck inside because crossing the Brink essentially drains their powers and kills them. And because of this Brink, magic is dwindling and dying out. But Esta is working on a way to take down the Brink. All she needs to do is travel back in time to steal a particular magical book. The problem, of course, is that she needs to get that book from 1902, when not only the Order but also powerful gangs and corrupt politicians hold quite a bit of power over the Mageus in New York City. This book felt almost as if it were the marriage of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them and Gangs of New York… Fantastic fun! (I can’t wait until the second book in the series, The Devil’s Thief, is released in October.)
Grace was an only child who had been adopted at birth. Her parents were open about the fact that she was adopted, but that didn’t mean they told her everything. Like, for instance, the fact that she had two biological siblings. So, what was it that drove them to make such a stunning revelation? Well… It was the fact that Grace got pregnant and put her own baby up for adoption. Although she knew she had chosen a very capable and loving couple to adopt her baby, she was still completely heartbroken to see that piece of herself taken away. So heartbroken, in fact, that it made Grace start to question the conditions under which her own mother had given her up for adoption and whether her biological mother would be interested in meeting up with her. Though Grace’s parents didn’t have any way to get in touch with her biological mother, they were able to tell her that she had an older brother, Joaquin, and a younger sister, Maya, who were located relatively close by!
I loved how Benway was able to create such unique voices for each of the three siblings so that their alternating narratives didn’t get too confusing or too redundant. I also appreciated how she was able to present such a depth and breadth of experiences for these teens, who had been adopted or spent a long time in the foster care system, without making it sound like she was merely ticking off items on a list. The problems that faced each of the siblings, both personal and interpersonal, were both realistic and varied. I think what I liked the most about this story was the fact that there was just so much *stuff* for readers to grab onto. It is so important for YA books to present a variety of characters and situations so that readers can both relate and learn to empathize with situations they have never faced. I am not the least bit surprised that this book won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.
Speth was nervous about giving her Last Day speech. She had to do it right or her sponsors could back out on her, or maybe even sue her. Another lawsuit was the last thing her family needed. Her parents were already sent into servitude because of the National Inherited Debt Act and the Historical Reparations Agency when it was “discovered” that one of their ancestors had illegally downloaded a song. And now that Speth was turning 15, she would be given a Cuff so that she could be charged for every word she spoke and every gesture she made — or have her eyeballs shocked if she couldn’t pay. Speth knew it would be tough to scale back on what she said after 15 years of free speech, but she had no idea she would be tested so soon, or so horribly. As she was walking across a bridge to give her Last Day speech, her best friend, Beecher, jumped and killed himself. She literally could not react before giving her Last Day speech or she would be in breech of her contract. She couldn’t imagine how she would give that speech after what she had just seen, so she decided she just wouldn’t talk. Ever again.
But how could Speth possibly keep her vow? She didn’t really consider how she would finish her education. Get a job. Or even communicate with friends and family. It was clear that the corporations and lawyers had taken things too far by copyrighting words, gestures, and even physical likenesses… But how could Speth fight back, let alone lead a revolution, without speaking? Much like MT Anderson’s Feed, this story challenges readers to consider the consequences of giving corporations and technology too much control over our daily lives. I can’t wait to see what happens next in the Word$ trilogy.