YA girls, figure skating, and police brutality

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

First, what a beautiful cover! This book has been on my list for a while, and I was happy to finally read it. It pairs nicely with Ahimsa. It’s a little bit simplified, but it does tell the story of slavery and how it can happen TODAY, in the age of cellphones. (In the story, Amal’s owner takes her cellphone away so she has no connection to the outer world.) I am really glad that there is an opportunity for South Asian authors and artists to tell their stories now, especially in the kidlit world.

Spinning by Tillie Walden

This is a graphic novel memoir about figure skating, but it’s really about growing up and being unsure of who you are. Tillie Walden grew up figure skating and it was a huge part of her life, before and after school. The part that resonated with me the most was how ambivalent Tillie was throughout the whole thing–both toward skating and toward life. That is how I felt a lot, basically most of my life. There are a few brief periods in my life when I felt very passionate and present in life, but I’ve more often felt like life was something to be endured rather celebrated. The book ends with Tillie feeling apathetic and quitting figure skating, but we don’t find out what happens next. In the end note, Tillie talks about how Spinning didn’t necessarily have a point–it’s based entirely on her memory and she purposely did NOT do research by revisintg her old skating rinks. It was a way for her to process her childhood and teenage years.

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

This book is a poem. It’s about police brutality and the African American boys (truly, they are boys) killed by White police officers. The ghost of Emmett Till visits the protagonist, Jerome, and Jerome really doesn’t know why. The most powerful part of this book is probably making the reader see that they are BOYS. They are not adults, they are boys who are confused and scared. They are not perfect or brave boys. Yet the police feared them, whether it is real fear or an excuse. Rhodes made it really clear that this is not a book attacking law enforcement–it is a book to call us to do better, and there are opportunities every one of us, including police officers, the children of police officers, bystanders, citizens, to do better. Thank you Jewell Parker Rhodes for writing this book.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez

Oh my gosh, this book blew me away. People have said that the best art begs to come out, and the artist is just the medium. When I was reading this book, I certainly felt like the story of Julia and Olga was begging to be told, and Erika L. Sanchez was the only person who could have told it. Julia, the protagonist, is rude and obnoxious and decidedly imperfect. Her dead sister, Olga, was the obedient and perfect Mexican daughter, who was having an affair with her boss. (BTW, I think her boss was a predator.) I could feel Julia’s desperation and the way she wants so much out of life, but is limited by the circumstances. I really felt like I knew Julia and Olga, and I loved both of them?! Thank you for giving us the deepest dive into a Mexican teenager’s life, author.

Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson

I have not read this year, but will come back to it!

Realistic and diverse YA

I am so thankful that these books exist. They tell specifict stories and break stereotypes not because the characters do the opposite of what we expect them to, but because they are nuanced and have so many aspects to themselves. I think we are starting to see that minority characters are here not to make a book diverse, but that they can have full range in their own right. The characters in each of these books is flawed, complex, privileged in some way, and most of all, they are fighting internal battles. All of the struggles compounded to make the stories here very powerful, heartbreaking, but also more realistic.

Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar

I loved this book about resistance. It’s set in 1940s India, a time when Indians were fighting for independence from the British as well as fighting internally between Hindus and Muslims. They are also acknowledging the inequality within Indian society, namely the Untouchables, a group that can never change their fate. It was interesting that the main character is super privileged, a Brahmin girl, and she had to acknowledge that her savior attitude was actually harmful to the people she was trying to help. It was very honest the way Anjali was called out for calling the Untouchables “God’s children”–the term was dishonest and in fact, insulting. They preferred to be called the Oppressed, or Dalits. Only when we acknowledge things for what they are can we begin to make changes. Ahimsa can be used to introduce kids to activism and talk about how to check your privilege and the angle you are coming from, as well as recognize intent vs. impact.

After the Shot Drops by Randy Ribay

Oh my gosh, this was such a powerful book. This book is NOT reductive and you won’t find black/white conflicts. Rather, you will see the ways that varying opportunities and privileges strain relationships within the African-American community. Every character here is different: Bunny, the talened basketball star with promises of going pro; Keyona, the girlfriend who is grounded and sensible; Wallace, the orphan who has been abandoned by every one; and Nasir, Bunny’s best friend and Wallace’s cousin who is torn in the middle of it. None of these characters are perfect or token anything and I think that is the best thing about this book.

Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert

My first thought reading this was “How does the author know so much about us?” It does have the same narrative vibe as Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Gilbert writes about high school life in Cupertino, CA and it was just spot-on in describing the Asian American high school experience. Students are ultra-stressed and there is tremendous pressure to excel academically. College admissions is such a huge part of life and it affects social life and all your high school relationships. It resonated with me so much that I felt like I knew these people. I knew Regina, and Harry, and Danny. The best thing about this book is that it is not only about Asian Americans OR queer friendships, but also about immigration status, mental health, and teen challenges. It is one of my favorite books because it does such a good job of describing the uncertainties of life and how nothing is as it seems.

Calling My Name by Liara Tamani

One conversation that’s been going on is that diverse books should not only feature the struggle of minorities, but also allow them to have joy and the full range of emotions and experiences that protagonists usually do. Taja, the main character in this book, is a good example of that. She experiences doubt about going her religion, loses her virginity, breaks up with her boyfriend, and applies to college. She doesn’t find herself in extraordinary situations, but her story is still worth telling because many teens do experience those exact same things.

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

I still have to finish this. Really glad that these YA characters are multi-dimensional and not limited to their tragedies or their one strength. ❤

YA fever

For the month of June, I decided to branch out and read what I normally don’t read. This includes romance, contemporary YA, and mysteries! I have always wanted to read those genres but as a creature of comfort, it was easy to pick out the realistic and fantasy books I normally read.

Trying something different is good!

Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds – What a wonderful debut!!!! This is much more than a teen romance. I love the time loops and the concept of this book is hard to pull off, but Justin did it and we wanted to follow Jack King wherever time takes him. I love Kate, and Franny and Jillian. My favorite thing about this book is that it could’ve become so many tropes and other things, such as winding into a large cast or become gimmicky, but it didn’t. The author showed a lot of restraint and the plotting was A+.

Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi -I did not finish this because although the cover and premise are very promising, and looks like a very fun, teen romance read, the writing was not my style. Teen speak is tricky to master and too much of it is usually not a good thing.

Just South of Home by Karen A. Strong – The cool thing about this is that I follow the author on Twitter for a while before I was able to read the book! It’s so cool to know authors as real people who have emotions and witness the work they put in in order to make a book come to life. This was a good MG ghost story! I think ghost stories and horror are going to be the next big thing in kidlit and YA. It’s a way to deal with mature themes, and it’s totally appropriate and respectful too. I loved responsible protagonist Sarah, city girl Janie, cute Elis and mature Jasper. Really nice reading a debut and I can’t wait for Karen’s sophomore novel. Hopefully it will be another ghost story!

Miraculous Miranda by Siobhan Parkinson – This is kid speak done right! I loved Miranda and her fantasies, and I’m always a fan of Harriet the Spy-esque characters. Kids who are cynical and kind of battling life in their own snarky way, with really spot-on observations. Miranda reminds me of Ray from Uptown Girls. You will never catch them being hurt or sad, but inside their steely and sharp wit is vulnerability and fierce hope. I love characters like Miranda.

The Jigsaw Jungle by Kristen Levine – I love books composed of letters, e-mails, other documents, and look like a scrapbook. I did not love Claudia’s dad because what he did was so irresponsible, but I loved Claudia and her friend’s determination to get to the bottom of it. The format of this book reminds me that I would really love books about local history, consisting of documents, yearbooks, photographs, and letters!

What stories catch your eye this summer?

YA fever pt. 1

If I had to pick a genre for everyone to read (because I’m a dictator), I would pick YA. Young Adult themes are universal because whose life isn’t in flux?? And who doesn’t relate to life being out of control, learning about yourself, and going on a journey? I think YA is all of those things and it appeals to kids, teenagers, young adults, and certainly adults.

It Wasn’t Me by Dana Alison Levy – This is a great book for teachers! It talks about the traditional consequences, such as detention, and looks at another way to deal with misbehavior, restorative justice. The kids thought that justice circles are touchy-feely and not going to work. I still have doubts about restorative justice but the most valuable part of it is that there are rarely just perpetrators and victims. Also, the victim is rarely the only one affected by the crime. When I was teaching and even now, I often think about what is the most effective way to handle misbehavior and injustice (whether perceived or real.) Because whether it happened, who did it, or who it happened to, is not really the question you want to be asking. You want to move forward and for people to feel right again. I love this book and I’m thankful that the author looked at a tricky problem that has no perfect solutions.

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas – I loved this book! It was so funny and really captures Newport Beach well. It’s relevant today because Islamophobia is still real, and a lot of racist still can’t find Iran on a map. I related to Cindy because she wants to feel American, but her life is not at ALL American. When you aren’t American, you don’t get “Dream big and make it happen.” It simply doesn’t work that way for you. (Even when you ARE American, it hardly works that way.) This book wasn’t just funny– it has a lot of heart and I highly enjoyed it. It’s great for fans of historical fiction, immigrant kids, and anyone who wants to laugh at the absurdities of living somewhere and belonging nowhere. Thank you Firoozeh Dumas for writing this very important book!

The Ugly One by Leanne Statland Ellis – I enjoyed this book because it reminded me of The Lighting Queen by Laura Resau. Both have to do with Central America and mythology. I love how Micay doubted herself and felt worthless, but she found her calling and pursued it. I want to read more books about non-western mythology like this one. Not to sound dramatic but society really does make women feel like if they aren’t pretty, they are worthless, from a young age. It is WORK to unlearn that kind of thinking. Micay went on that journey and found that she could heal people. It’s important to find your strength, but it’s also important to know that even if you haven’t found what makes you special, your life is still worth living. ❤

Things That Surprise You  by Jennifer Maschari – Middle school is the worst and it takes a middle school teacher-author to capture all the minor pains that go on at home and at school when you are 12. My favorite character has to be Hector! He is so wonderful and a friend you want, though not necessarily the coolest or at first. Middle school is subtly or outright painful!

I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo – She is sooo good at writing YA! Despite the characters’ questionable choices, her books are always so much fun to read. I really love all the K-drama references and how Desi took the tropes literally. I will read Maurene’s books because they remind me of the first YA books I ever read, back in the early 2000s when they were “teen lit.” AKA The Princess Diaries! I love that YA hits serious themes and has become so sophisticated, but sometimes it’s really nice to read a book for fun.

What do you love about YA?

Graphic novels!

Graphic novels are so awesome! I wish they had been around back when I was a student. Graphic novels written just for kids. I love the CatStronauts series by Drew Brockington because it combines so many awesome things: cats, space/NASA, and our world. The author did an interview here about his process. It really is adorable and I’ve been loving the specific crossovers I’m seeing lately! Comics can really bring together people with different interests, and not the traditional reader. As a format, graphic novels are really powerful and I’m excited to see their applications in the classroom.

One such application is using non-fiction graphic novels for informational reading/writing! Drowned City is a GN about Hurricane Katrina, and it was definitely researched and a lot of facts went into the making. It really captures the short span during which the event happened, and I learned a lot about Hurricane Katrina. It would be so great to do a dual-text comparison of this and a news article, interview, or video on the same event. Kind of wish I was a teacher so I could design these kind of lessons!

Graphic novels can also be used for fantasy! Making Scents and Chasma Knights are both partly based in the real world with fantasy elements. Chasma is about a world where toys have power, and Making Scents is about a boy who has dog-like abilities. Graphic novels appeal to kids because a lot of us are visual learners, and as teachers, we are always pairing text with images to help clarify. It makes perfect sense that GNs would help all kinds of readers make sense of the story.

Lastly, I loved Cici’s Journal. It’s a two-part book about an aspiring writer/journalist. Cici discovers an abandoned zoo as well as a library book that has been checked out by the same patron for years. On her quests to uncover these mysteries, she alienates her best friends, her mom, and her mentor. The drawings and mementos are absolutely precious and really bring the story to life. I’ve always loved journal-type books like Amelia and other diary formats. They are so precious to read and to be honest, I’m still that kind of person.

Will you give graphic novels a try? If you are a teacher, might you incorporate GNs into your lessons?


Excellent books with female protagonists!

The really cool thing about these books is that they show change in women over time. They could all be classified as women’s fiction! 🙂

Convenience Store Woman is particularly wonderful. One reviewer described it like a stage play and it makes sense. It’s a hyper-detailed description of a convenience store worker who has been there for 18 years!!!!! She’s at the age where people are asking her why she’s not married and doesn’t have a career. I would have to say the most disappointing part of the book was when it looked like she would get settle and finally get a real career job, However! Spoiler Alert: She actually realizes that the Convenience Store is where she belongs, and chooses to embrace the life she HAS been living all this time. That definitely felt like a victory.

I loved What the Night Sings by Vesper Stamper, for both the illustrations and the story. It’s about Gerta, a Holocaust survivor and the three years between the end of the war and the next chapter of her life. She meets Lev, a fellow survivor who wants to marry her to start a new life. However, Gerta refuses because 1) she is initially in love with this other survivor, Michah, who is a Zionist and kind of awful and 2) she doesn’t see the point in doing anything permanent. However (and nevertheless), they do get married. It seems that Gerta does find herself and can picture a new life unfolding, which may be the greatest victory of all.

I LOVE THE CILLA LEE-JENKINS series. I actually met the author Susan Tan, at Kweli19! I love how it’s semi-autobiographical. Cilla is just the coolest kid and I related to so many of her Struggles. The illustrations by Dana Wulfekotte are just adorbs and capture the story so well. I love everything about this series including:

  • How Cilla references writing and plot devices IN HER LIFE
  • The fact that Cilla wants to be an author extraordinaire
  • All 4 of her grandparents: Grandpa and Grandma Jenkins, Ye Ye and Nai Nai
  • Her little sisters Gwen and Essie
  • Her friends, Colleen, Melissa, and Ben. The supporting cast in this series is pretty solid! I also love the teachers she’s had all three years. It could be pretty hit or miss.
  • The book doesn’t shy away from some of the doubts and uncomfortable situations that Asian-American women face.

So so happy that these books exist. ❤


Action-oriented kids!

These are some of my favorite books this year! My list of favorite authors is slowly growing. I’m so glad some of these are early career authors because I can’t wait to read more of their work!

Lu is the last of the Track series by Jason Reynolds. I loved this series and it was an absolute home run. Each kids has their own obstacle to overcome and it is the thing that defines them, and there’s no shame in that. Lu’s “thing” is that he is albino. There has been a kid who makes fun of him for his skin, and he has a baby sister on the way. Not to mention that being a leader is not easy.

I absolutely loved The House That Lou Built by Mae Respicio! It’s one of my favorites now. For so many reasons this book spoke to me:

  • The strong sense of time and place in current day San Francisco
  • The fact that Mae wants to become an architect! Having worked in an architecture firm, I really value the fact that girls want to be one in a male-dominated field
  • Teamwork and how Mae and her friends pitched in to build her dream tiny house
  • Filipino culture and how Mae describes the details to readers without lecturing us
  • How Mae describes being biracial but doesn’t make it a huge deal or attach a lot of anguish to it

Paul Mosier is a really good writer. The Train I Ride is his debut and his style is full of heart and about kids in a major transition in their lives. Mosier’s stories are definitely character-driven when you consider that the entire novel takes place over a three-day train ride. This would be such a good case study for writing characters, including minor characters who really help the story become richer.

On the contrary, there is a master of writing, Ottessa Moshfegh whose stories are both character- and plot-driven. She really is a master and I don’t know how she can write like that. Homesick for Another World is a collection of fifteen characters, weirdos, and the troubles, pain, embarrassment, and weird joys they find themselves. How does she know so much about all of us? I have a feeling her characters write themselves into being, that is how realistic they are.

I just finished A Circle of Elephants by Eric Dinerstein. I love the amount of research and real-life experience that went into the writing of this! The author is a naturalist/conservationist by trade. However, this book was not lacking in heart. You really root for Nandu, Subba-sahib, Baba, Father Autry, and the crew that helps save animals. I love that rhinos, tigers, and elephants are all given attention in this book!

In conclusion, I love books about being kids who have strong beliefs and take action!

A Writer’s Craft

I’ve been reading Ottessa Moshfegh’s newest book, My Year of Rest and Relaxation. I was an instant fan when I read Eileen and she hasn’t disappointed. Her writing is so distinct and I’m noticing some of the things that make it read like Ottessa. The one I’m going to talk about today is her use of similes and metaphors. As a literal person, figurative language has always evaded me, as in I can’t come up with them! So, I’m a big admirer of writers who can pull it off well. Exhibit 1: The narrator talks about feeling “both relieved and irritated.” That could have been the end, but she compares it to how you’d feel if someone shows up in the middle of your suicide (!!!) I find that to be so skillful because:

    It is a highly specific situation
    It describes relief and irritation perfectly
    After this bomb, she continues like nothing is out of the norm

Exhibit 2: The narrator describes how her older sort of-boyfriend pays no attention to her, and she knows it. To him, she is the “mac ‘n’ cheese or marshmallow cereal” at the grocery store. Again, she could’ve stopped there and we would know what she means, but Moshfegh takes the metaphor and runs with it by going on:

    She was kids’ stuff
    She was nonsense
    She wasn’t worth the calories

By this point, we know exactly how little Trevor values the her and how well she is aware of it.

👏👏 As a reader, I’m always in awe of writers’ craft and the ways that they make writing their own. More to come!

Frankly Frannie

Have you ever been obsessed with jobs?

I have, and so has Frannie. Frannie, professionally known as Mrs. Frankly B. Miller, is my alter ego. She has done so many jobs and I believe she is in third grade. Some of the things that Frannie has done include:

(Guest) principal, concert planner, conference staff, fortune teller, dogsitter, radio show host, waiter, and restaurant critic. I have not read the two books where she is a flower girl and fashion designer/model. My resume reads like Frannie’s because I have done a ton of unrelated jobs. Sometimes, I wonder if I am the only one who is more into the idea of working and having a job than the job itself. The things I am passionate about, such as reading and hobbies, have never been things that most people get paid to do. I’m also not supremely talented like the people who do get paid to do those things. Yet I still really love jobs, like Frannie.

There are so many things that Frannie likes that spoke to me, including:

  • She wants an office, office supplies and assistant
  • She has a resumé, business card, and briefcase
  • She loves words like certainly, however, nonetheless, and actually
  • She gets into trouble at work because she has busy hands and a big imagination
  • She has friends and sort-of friends who help her with her jobs
  • She’s a very jobbish and workerish sort of person

The thing is this series was written for young kids, like second graders!!! I didn’t think that there would be little kids who are jobbish, like me. I wish I had read this when I was a kid because I would have felt so seen. I’m a real life Frannie and I love jobs so much that I cannot have just one. Some of the jobs I am trying to qualify for include:

    Writer/editor – I would love to write for an online magazine like Rookie or Mochi.
    Publishing firm employee – I’m going to a publishing camp this summer!
    Crafter/illustrator – I’m currently working on my crafts.
    Shopkeeper/shop owner – I’m working on my Etsy shop.

Besides the jobs I have given myself (lol), I have done the following jobs too:

  • Retail associate @ Minamoto Kitchoan – This was a unique job that I really enjoyed, selling Japanese confectionery! I learned a lot about being detailed and meticulous.
  • Receptionist – I love transferring calls and being a general help (or pain) to people.
  • Elementary teacher – I did not love this job for many reasons. 😞🤢
  • Admin assistant – I love being a general pain/help to people!
  • Intern – I love assisting to be honest.

Oh!!! I forgot to add that I love writing emails! I hope in whatever job I have, I will get to write and answer a lot of emails and phone calls. I love old school communication. I think I would love working in a publishing firm because it’s a very office and communication type of job. In addition, I love work where you having a definite project and are producing something, such as a book, events, or house. I love all the details involved in bringing something to life and making it really polished. I also love taking care of people.

However, just like Frannie, I realized that the MOST most important part of any job is actually not the work itself but your sense of responsibility and making sure that you do right by your customers/people. This includes both the people who are paying you AND the people you are working with/for. The toughest part is making a judgment call based on not only facts but people’s feelings, urgency, and making sure that relationships are intact throughout the process. This is honestly NOT easy! It’s something that I am always working on. Nonetheless, I love jobs and hope to find one that I really love (with an office, assistant, and business card.)

What is the favorite job you’ve ever had?