Category Archives: book review

I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Gilly Segal & Kimberly Jones

1565978992449Lena and Campbell didn’t even know each other before that night, but they had to get to know — and trust — one another pretty quickly.  Why?  Because, while Lena was attempting to buy a snack, at the snack bar where Campbell was working, a riot broke out.  It was at a Friday night football game, and they were playing their rival school.  One ugly comment from a racist jerk quickly escalated into a full on brawl, and even the security guards couldn’t break it up. In fact, one of them was shot in the scuffle.  After Lena let herself into the snack bar to take cover, the girls soon realized that they would need to get away from there if they didn’t want to risk becoming collateral damage.

I liked how alternating perspective between the two girls helped to illustrate both their preconceptions and their epiphanies as the story progressed.  This story is a much needed and timely exploration of racism, and I hope high school teachers will soon add it to their curriculums and encourage young people to work toward better communication and understanding between ethnic groups.

Happy Reading!

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I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn

1565373728433Though Kimi has been accepted to a prestigious school of fine arts, she finds that she is having a bit of an artistic block during her senior year.  Instead of starting her portfolio and working on developing her style, as her mother keeps urging, she finds herself drawn more to “distractions” like designing and creating original fashion pieces for herself and her friends.  Kimi is so stalled, in fact, that she even dropped out of her studio art class — but can’t find the courage to tell her mother.  In an act of desperation, after her mother finds out that she has been lying about the art class, Kimi decides to take up her estranged [maternal] grandparents on their out-of-nowhere invitation to visit them in Kyoto, Japan, during her spring break.  Not only will this trip give Kimi a bit of a break from her mom, but it will afford her the opportunity to get to know her grandparents, to learn more about how her mom grew to become the woman she is today, and a chance to explore the Japanese half of her heritage.

As you would expect, based on the title, Kimi finds a love interest when she travels to Japan.  She met Akira in the market as he was working for his uncle’s mochi stand — dressed up and dancing around in a mochi mascot costume!  I really liked how Akira was such a fun-loving and spirited guy despite the fact that he was a medical student, since so many people assume that all medical students are very serious all the time. I also liked that he chose to be a doctor or his own volition, which goes against the stereotype even Kimi believed about overbearing Asian mothers/parents always pressuring their children to be successful and to take on elite career paths.  Aside from the plot of the story itself, I loved that readers were given such a great primer on Japanese culture — whether it was about expected behaviors in public or traditional familial relationships.  My only complaint about this story, to be honest, was how Kimi could be *SO* smart and yet oblivious to the obvious realities of where her future could lie…  Still, I think this is a cute story and that it would be a fun poolside/beach book to add to your #SummerReading list.

Happy Reading!

I Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman

1564691578541Freya is an up-and-coming [teenaged] singer who has inexplicably lost her ability to sing. Harun is a young Muslim man who thinks he may have just lost the love of his life due to his resistance to “come out” to his family and date James openly. And Nathaniel is a guy who has just arrived in Manhattan with only a backpack, a small amount of money, and a desperate plan. Three very different people, with very different baggage, but seemingly fated to come together. You may be wondering, “Why does it seem these three were ‘fated’ to come together?” Well… While it may seem a bit cliche, Freya literally *fell* into Harun’s and Nathaniel’s lives when she tripped off a pedestrian bridge in Central Park and landed on top of Nathaniel. And though he was not directly involved in the accident, Harun seemed to believe that his unhappiness and wish that other people would suffer like him caused the accident. Feeling guilt over his possible role in things, he went over to help before he suddenly recognized Freya — the singer from YouTube whom James watched obsessively. James would always daydream about someday meeting Freya and professing to be her biggest fan, so Harun took it as a sign… Maybe he could get James back afterall!

Though the story alternates between characters and travels back and forth between the past and present, I didn’t find it the least bit confusing. Gayle Forman has a way of bringing her characters to life and making them relatable despite their unique backgrounds and characteristics, which is incredibly helpful in fostering empathy and/or the sense that one is not alone in a particular struggle. I think my favorite thing about Gayle Forman’s writing/books, nevertheless, is how even the saddest of storylines have a thread of hope woven throughout. It’s almost as if she is reaching out from her books to assure her readers that they, too, can overcome the obstacles in their lives with enough hope, grit, determination, and love.

Happy Reading!

All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney

1564091712746Far too many people in America today don’t seem to know much about Muslims/Islam aside from the fear-driven news reports of Muslim terrorists.  And when people are both uninformed and fearful, there is sure to be trouble.  You have probably heard stories about people reporting harmless airline passengers as suspected terrorists because they were overheard saying “Allah,” which is a very common word in Arabic.  Well, that is exactly what happens to Allie Abraham’s dad in the beginning of this book.  I really liked how Allie’s narrative includes asides detailing her frustration in having to put on a happy face and just deal with bias throughout her life — and especially how her own light skin, reddish-blond hair, and hazel eyes have often helped her to “pass” for a non-Muslim.

Although her parents are non-practicing and have always encouraged her to keep her religious background to herself (for safety reasons), the growth of Islamaphobia, in America and even in her local area, helps Allie to realize that she wants to learn more about her Muslim roots and to start practicing Islam.  Making the transition from being seen as an “all-American girl” to acknowledging her identity as a Muslim-American girl might seem brave in and of itself, but it’s especially brave when you consider the fact that her boyfriend’s dad is a conservativ tv pundit who has even written a book about “radical Islam” and its war on America.

I really appreciate how this author is using YA literature as a conduit for education so that she can help to challenge uninformed stereotypes and to build understanding between the Muslim community and people who don’t know much about Muslims/Islam.  The second section of her Goodreads “about the author” really says it all — Nadine is a Circassian-American, a Muslim, and a believer that compassion and education can make the world a better place.  Here’s to hoping this book helps her in that endeavor.

Happy Reading!

Grimoire Noir by Vera Greentea

When I was a newly minted librarian, I saw Nancy Pearl speak at the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library.  (And now I work there as a storytime and substitute librarian — yay!)  Nancy Pearl is best known for speaking up about the importance of and pleasure that can be found in reading.  One piece of advice, in particular, has stuck with me all these years.  She emphasized the fact that librarians need to read a wide variety of books instead of just sticking to our favorite genres and authors so that we can best serve our patrons.  Though I don’t shy away from reading the books and authors that I prefer, I definitely do my best to push myself outside of my comfort zone on a somewhat regular basis so that I can be prepared to make recommendations to people across genres and formats.  And although I don’t dislike them, for example, I don’t prefer graphic novels and might not choose to read any if I wasn’t making a conscious choice to expand my horizons.  Every now and again, I am really glad I make this concerted effort because I find a book like this!

In a small town where magick is strong and witches live among non-magical folk, there is a very tentative balance.  When the sheriff’s own daughter, Heidi, goes missing, he is caught in a difficult position.  Yes, he wants to find his daughter and he is in a position that should grant him some power, but he also has to respect the vow he made to protect those with magick.  His son, Bucky, and his wife don’t really understand how he doesn’t just change the law to keep looking for further evidence of who took Heidi, but the sheriff is worried about fanning the flames of suspicion and starting another round of witch trials.  Especially since a witch named Emmeline is set to be released from prison in only a couple of days. But Bucky refuses to just let things go and takes it upon himself to go back over the evidence and timeline of Heidi’s disappearance to see if he might be able to figure out who took her.  This was a good mystery with some seriously great art, and it will be released on July 23rd.

Happy Reading!

Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

41941681[1]Jay Reguero is a Filipino-American teen who, like many American teenagers, plays a lot of video games in his spare time and doesn’t go out of his way to spend time with his family.  Though Jay and his family have travelled home to the Philippines to visit family, they more often stay in touch via phone and letters.  Jay tended to be closer to one cousin in particular over the years, though he has recently stopped even responding to Jun’s letters.  He is thoroughly devastated, therefore, when he learns that Jun was killed — especially when his family tries to act like nothing really happened.  He was allegedly killed because of his ties to the “war on drugs” back in the Philippines, and his death has brought shame to their family.  From what Jay remembers of his cousin, though, that doesn’t make any sense.  And when he starts to look into things, he finds a lot of stories about people who were killed with less-than-compelling evidence that they were actually involved in the drug scene.

Since President Duterte was elected based on his promises to reign in drugs and violence in the Philippines, though, he has literally encouraged extra-judicial killings as a means by which they might wipe out drug dealers and addicts alike.  Many times, the victim’s family members are either too ashamed to speak out about the death of their loved ones, fear for what might happen to them if they speak out against this vigilante justice, or both.  But Jay, fueled by both grief and guilt, simply needs to know the truth.  Will traveling to the Philippines help Jay to uncover the real truth of what happened to Jun?  How will he manage to look his extended family in the eye if and when he is visiting and they try to pretend nothing is wrong?  And what will Jay even do with the information once he learns the “truth” behind his cousin’s death?

To be honest, I had only heard a very little bit about President Duterte and the controversy surrounding his presidency before I read this story.  Hopefully Jun’s story, though he is a fictional character, will help to raise awareness of what is happening in the Philippines.  And, if nothing else, this book is a much-needed reminder that it is dangerous to allow hatred and fear to guide government policies and/or bring about the rise of dictators.

Happy Reading!

Switchback by Danika Stone

41711283[1]Whoa!  It’s a really good thing this book didn’t come out *before* my husband got suddenly interested in hiking a few years ago.  Between my anxiety creating its own “worst case scenarios” and the crazy situations in this book, I may not have been able to handle him heading out into the wilderness!  So, what is so crazy about this story?!?  Well, let’s start off with the fact that a PE teacher is taking an entire class of high school seniors, many of whom have no hiking/camping experience, out into the Canadian wilderness for an overnight hike.  Though I am sure there are probably teachers and students who have had such experiences, thinking about that kind of a scenario just makes me nervous to begin with.  Of course, two of the students end up separated from the rest of the group.  And the weather suddenly turns, bringing both rain and snow.  Without proper gear and with hardly any food between the two of them, they need to manage long enough to be found or to get themselves back to town.  Gah!!!!!!!

There were a few things that I really loved about this story, despite all the anxiety it caused me.  😉  First was the story of the friendship between the two main characters, Ash and Vale.  Although they had been best friends as kids, the two had drifted apart.  And, even worse, Ash didn’t stick up for Vale when she became a bit of a social outcast and was being bullied; he felt bad but didn’t want to make himself a target.  There’s nothing quite like an emergency, nevertheless, to bring people together.  Second is that this story was a little crash course, in and of itself, into wilderness survival.  Since Vale had experience in the outdoors and Ash was a complete beginner, she taught him (and readers) a bunch of survival tactics and hacks.  The third thing I particularly loved was the fact that Vale was open with Ash about her identification as ace/aro (asexual and aromantic) and explained what that meant (feeling neither sexual or romantic attraction towards anyone, regardless of their gender).  Although this book was published right before #PrideMonth, I am not sure whether it was intention or kismet.  Either way, I hope readers will take away both wilderness survival hacks and a little understanding of and empathy for the ace/aro contingent of the GLBTQ+ community.

Happy Reading!