Last year between October and December, I checked out a big stack of books and did not get around to reading them. I finally am again! I will review and update as I finish each book.
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
I loved this book! It’s about children being literally on fire whenever they feel angry, upset or a kind of strong emotion. I relate to how Lillian feels like a failure and deficient, and raising the two fire-children gave her a new sense of purpose. On paper, she’s the furthest thing from a parent, but she bonded with the Bessie and Roland because they are outcasts and weird, too. Wilson’s writing is wry and sentimental. I love Lillian’s straight-forward way of talking and her jabs at the propriety of Madison and Senator Roberts’ life. Her interactions with Carl were fun, too. Lillian reminds me a little bit of Ottessa Moshfegh’s female characters because she is so weird, yet it’s fun to follow her on this adventure of becoming the ~governess~ to a senator’s unwanted children. Kevin Wilson’s writing resonates with me, and I’ll be reading more of his books about families.
Flor and Miranda Steal the Show by Jennifer Torres
The whole time I was reading this book, I pictured the L.A. County Fair in Pomona. Flor and Miranda work the carnival: Miranda is in her family’s band, and Flor’s family runs the petting zoo. The problem is the carnival manager wants to cut the petting zoo to pay for Miranda y Los Reyes’ fees. It’s a nice rivals-to-friends story in a very specific setting, and I loved seeing them describe the carnival behind the scenes. Middle grade books about working families always bring me back to teaching for some reason! It reminds me a lot of students, and how they have a rich life with things going on at home that they don’t let on at school.
There are a lot of YA novels about teen girls, but hers center them. It’s not that her main characters are perfectly active agents in control of their lives—just the opposite. Things happen to them that are outside their control. Probably more so because they are young Afro-Latinas. But we find out their reactions, plans and dreams and the way Acevedo writes these girls, they are in such good hands and I close the book feeling like, “They will be fine.” They are cared for, they know who they are, and they have mujeres in their lives who have their backs.
Her two books following The Poet X (2018) pulled so many emotions out of me. With the Fire on High (2019) made me want to be Emoni’s friend. She’s a teen mom who is passionate about cooking in her senior year of high school. I love the way Emoni talked about virginity. Tyrone, her baby daddy, was the first (and only) person she had sex with, yet everyone thinks she is a ho because she got pregnant.
There are so many details that gave the reader a sense of Emoni’s reality as a teen mom: doing her daughter’s hair before she goes to school; being able to sign permission slips for her daughter, but not for herself; and getting her phone confiscated because of school policy when she really needs it in case her daughter’s daycare needs her. These hassles show that she is a high school student at the same time that she is a mom, and she has so many responsibilities that she keeps to herself, which makes people think she is stuck-up.
But that’s ok because she has Abuela, Ms. Fuentes, Angelica and Malachi. I love how they support her even when she isn’t sure where she stands. I especially love Malachi, the transfer student who became her love interest. I love that he doesn’t judge or like her less for being a mom, and he doesn’t rush her into having sex, even though Emoni was fully prepared for that to be the case. [spoiler] When they were about to have sex on their culinary arts field trip to Spain, I LOVE how Malachi was a virgin and Emoni obviously was not! And they talked about it like adults, and it didn’t stop them from being attracted to and friends with each other.
On the other hand, masculinity was all the way toxic in Clap When You Land (2020). Camino and Yahaira never knew each other existed until their father died in a plane crash on his way to the Dominican Republic, where he had another family. The book is about the messy and painful aftermath of his death and the girls grieved. I had so many questions while reading this book and it really took me on a trip.
Like Camino and Yahaira, I had so many questions:
If you have two wives, do you love one let alone both of them? Yahaira’s mami told her that, he might have loved his wives, but his love for his children were not in question.
How do you grieve for someone who has lied to you your whole life? There isn’t an answer.
Just how much can a woman survive? I think Zoila, Yahaira’s mom and later, Camino’s stepmom, really stood out to be in her strength. At first, I thought having your husband not only cheat on you, but to start and raise a whole other family in your home country, for 16 years, would be like dying a slow death.
But Zoila surprised. Her character arc was amazing. She went from being a general’s only child, to a wife whose husband betrayed her in the worst way, to a widow, to the stepmom of the child of her husband and her friend.
I love how she had strengths that didn’t jump out until the times it mattered: She protected her stepdaughter, fiercely, even though just stepping foot on the island where her husband started a second family was excruciating for her. I also love how Camino and Yahaira slowly figured out who their mom is. Camino thought she was “una chica plastica” and Yahaira thought she was a “showpiece of a woman,” but she turned out to be a true matriarch.
The idea of a man fractured, and a family fractured, has been on my mind after reading The Bluest Eye. The pain, grief and utter sadness is also palpable here. Some reviews said the language in this book felt bruised, raw and wounded and they are absolutely right. My chest literally hurt thinking about what Zoila, Tia, and even Camino’s mom, and the girls must have gone through.
But I think I was wrong to be angry at Yano for being a womanizer. The book isn’t about him. It’s about the women healing (Tia and Camino), defending (Zoila) and making moves (Yahaira) in the absence of him.
One thing that has been on my mind for the past 4 years is the rise of fascism in the U.S. You cannot ignore it and it isn’t hyperbolic to wonder how close America came to becoming Nazi Germany. I noticed this book by “chance” at the library and immediately picked it up. I wanted to learn more about the Holocaust and how every day people resisted, or managed to escape, it.
Uri Shulevitz is a Caldecott Award-winning illustrator and picture book author. He is now 85-years-old and this memoir recounts his days in Poland, Turkestan, and France when he was a child escaping the Holocaust with his parents. Impressionist drawings and some photographs accompany the text. I would say this is not a strictly children’s book because there is a lot of cruelty, the kind that hits you when you look back as an adult.
One of the biggest connections I drew from Shulevitz to the U.S. today is when he mentioend how lucky he was to go through this ordeal with his parents. The U.S. separates children from their parents at the border. Both are escaping from home countries that have become inhabitable for them. Uri’s parents left him at several points during their journey from Poland to Turkestan because of illness, work opportunity, or being captured. Nonetheless, they managed to return.
That his family stayed intact and that he survived to become an artist is the theme of “Chance.” If he had not been named Uri, his father would have gotten USSR passports. If they had Soviet passports, they would have remained in Belarus. If they had stayed in Belarus, they would have been taken by the invading Nazis and died.
It goes to show that our survival had little to do with our own decisions. Rather, it was blind chance deciding our fate.
p. 249, Chance by Uri Shulevitz
It is the same with DREAMers and immigrants from Central America coming to the United States. Their survival has to do with the mercy of ICE, of Senators, of the President — people who have no idea who they are and what is at stake. Uri said that even after the Nazis had been defeated and his family moved to Paris, he was called a “dirty foreigner” by other children, and only seen as a Parisian outside of Paris. That resonates with how Americans see each other and the many divisions and cultural wars that you fight, even when you are technically “safe.”
My biggest takeaway from “Chance” is that safety is a gift and we are always one disaster, one chance away from fascism taking over. We can be vigilant and put in every effort, but safety is not guaranteed.
It’s been a very tough year and I feel lost every other day. So it’s been nice to read books that are comfortable but still have a challenging and persevering feel. Here are five that I read recently that happen to be #OwnVoices, written by Asian American and Native American authors.
My Fate According to the Butterfly by Gail D. Villanueva is a realistic MG story with the Drug War in the background. (See Patron Saints of Nothingfor a powerful YA telling of what’s going on in the Philippines.) In it, Sab (short for Sabrina) sees a black butterfly, an omen that she or someone close to her is about to die. She figures she only has one week left to live and decides to find out why her sister has refused to speak to her dad. Despite being a MG novel, My Fate manages to look into colonialism, colorism, politics and free speech. I have a craving for Filipino stories and I’m so glad Villanueva is writing them for a younger audience.
Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan is a translation of a Hans Christian Andersen Award-winning Chinese novel. I read it in 2017 and it was one of the books that started my down the reading journey that I am now on. The background is the Cultural Revolution, which brutalized the lives of artists, intellectuals and the middle-upper class. Sunflower is the daughter of an artist and she gets sort of adopted into Bronze’s family. The story is heartbreaking but so, so good. It is one of my favorites.
I Love You So Mochiby Sarah Kuhn is a fluffy, romantic story about a Japanese American girl visiting her grandparents in Japan during spring break. Her quest is to find herself, and she does that along with meeting a cute pre-med boy who dresses up as a mochi mascot. This story is exactly what I needed during a time when we couldn’t travel or feel even very romantic at all. I love how the anime vibes: how clueless Kimi is and how caring and committed Akira is. Read this for a fun getaway!
Indian No Moreby Charlene Willing McManis with Traci Sorell is such a special book. The author passed away before she could complete it, and she gave it to her friend to complete the draft. All the women who helped bring this book to life–author, coauthor, editor, cover illustrator–are Native, even though they are from different tribes. The story is based on the author’s childhood, moving from the Grande Ronde in Oregon to Los Angeles due to tribe termination. It literally forcefully removed their identity, and the Umpqua members became the walking dead. It also occurred during the Civil Rights era, when there was racism toward Black Americans. This book should be paired with I Can Make This Promise. The US government really deleted every aspect of Native American life from this country and it is criminal. I’m so glad Native writers are writing about their families and presenting a more accurate picture of their lives.
Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park is about a half-Chinese, half white girl, Hanna, who moves to the frontier with her father. Her mother was a seamstress and passed on the skill of sewing to her. Hanna encounters racism at school in the 1890s, and unfortunately the comments she hears are not all that different from the comments an Asian American girl might hear today. Park wrote Prairie Lotus as an alternative to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, which was racist toward Native Americans. This book made me think of how many untold stories there are, and what kind of images we conjure when we think of an era.
In review, the protagonists in these books faced deep challenges, but I still found it comforting to hear their stories because I am experiencing a deeply challenging time myself. Thank you to #OwnVoices books for making me feel seen.
As a former child and former elementary teacher, middle grade books are how I got serious about reading. One of my mentor teachers said that “kids are little people” and I agree — they wonder about the meaning of life, they want to belong, and they are flawed so they make mistakes. They also don’t know which friends and authority figures, if any, to trust.
For middle grade authors to be able to distill all those adult themes in kid language is really a feat. 👏🎬
Sputnik’s Guide by Frank Cottrell Boyce
I had to read this twice. It reminds me of Boom! by Mark Haddon, both are written by British authors. It’s a little too lackadaisical for me, but on the second reading, I understood it a little more. It’s about a boy with selective mutism whose grandfather (his caretaker) has just been taken to a home. He is staying with a foster family for the summer, and he meets a dog, Sputnik. He imagines Sputnik as a person/his partner. Sputnik helps Prez come to terms with his grandfather’s being taken away to a home and find where he belongs, where it’s with the Blythes, his foster family, or not. Sense of belonging is an eternal theme in kidlit!
Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly
Erin Entrada Kelly is one of my must-read authors! Her books have a definite theme — told from the point of view of a protagonist (often girl) who is bullied and overcomes obstacles to prove herself to the community, and if not, to herself. Lalani is her latest, and it’s a masterpiece of Filipino folklore and the classic hero’s journey. It reminds me of The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill, Disney’s Moana, and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin.
I love the main narrative interspersed with folktales that give more background to what Lalani encounters. My favorite tale was one the girl with a shell on her back discarding her shell, then finding a village where everyone has a shell. It’s so heartbreaking how you try your hardest to conform to a society where you don’t fit, then when you finally find your people, you no longer fit in with them. I cannot blame the girl for getting rid of her shell — it was the best choice she could have made at the time. I think we are all trying to find that place where the unique things about us, the flaws, would help us belong rather than cast us out. I love this story because the theme of belonging is so universal.
The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz
This book follows the journey of a Guatemalan boy, Jaime, and his cousin, Angela, to the EE.UU. It is a really important book, but I worry that it may reinforce what white readers want to believe/read about undocumented kids. The story begins with the death of Jaime’s cousin, Miguel, to the Alphas. After killing Miguel, the gang recruits Jaime and Angela, giving them no choice but to flee.
The most informative part of the book was getting to follow their journey from Guatemala to Mexico, from the center of Mexico to Ciudad Juarez, then finally crossing the border. The reader spends time with the protagonists on La Bestia, the train that maims and leaves many riders unable to work and worse off than they started. We also find out how hard it is to negotiate with the coyotes and other migrants — you can’t trust anyone, and danger is everywhere even though the end goal might be the same. I am interested in what happens when Jaime and Miguel arrive and start their lives in the U.S., so I will check out the sequel. When it comes to something as complex as immigration from kids’ perspectives, multiple perspectives are so important, which is why I am also reading Haymarket’s Solito, Solita, first-person accounts of the same journey that Jaime and Angela took.
Midnight Mayhem by Rajani LaRocca
This is one of my favorite books! It’s a twist on Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I love the Changeling, Queen Titania, the love square, and most of all, the baking contest twist! There are so many delicious recipes that I want to try from this book. It was a really creative retelling of the play.
Mimi is so the main character. I love how Rajani LaRocca wrote about Mimi’s Indian American family. Being Indian wasn’t a plot point in the book but it was incorporated into the ingredients she used in baking, like turmeric coffee cake and rosewater cupcakes. I also related to the way that Mimi feels like she is the only untalented one in her family. There’s a lot to love about this book!
Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly
Oh my gosh, this book was so sad. Apple is like Quinn in Glee — ALL the bad things happen to her and she has the worst luck in school. Erin Entrada Kelly is a pro at writing protagonists like this and I love it. Kids need to see that childhood is not all riding bikes and selling lemonade. There are kids who are suffering, just like they might be.
Apple has a hard time because boys at school have ranked her as the third ugliest girl in school, her mom doesn’t let her buy a guitar, and her friends are really not friends at all. Despite all of this, she does find true friends. It’s really refreshing to read about sad kids because I deal with depression and my childhood wasn’t happy. It can be even more alienating to see stories where kids are having a carefree time. So I appreciate the sad girl books, and I hope Erin Entrada Kelly continues to write them!
What are your favorite genres within middle grade?
I was really looking forward to watching the live action “Mulan” in theaters, but because of COVID-19, it has been pushed back. In lieu of the movie, I decided to read three retellings of Mulan. The live action has gotten some backlash for not being faithful to the “original” animation in 1998, but that is only one version of a centuries old ballad.
There are so many ways to retell the story, the center of which is a young woman who disguises herself as a man so she can take the place of her father in the imperial army. To me, Mulan is about strength and knowing yourself, as well as questioning what femininity and masculinity really mean.
Aside from the Mulan retellings, I also read two books by authors who explored a part of their background. The heroine’s journey always draws me in.
The Magnolia Sword by Sherry Thomas
This is an amazing book! Sherry Thomas is a romance writer, and this telling includes romance between Mulan and a princeling. Their families have dueled for generations and the winner gets to keep the other’s sword. At first Mulan didn’t recognize that the princeling was her rival Yuan Kai, and once she recognized them, she starts to have feelings for him. Their prior history makes the romance a little different from the romance in other versions of Mulan. They have to wrestle with family history in addition to the gender disguise.
Another thing that sets The Magnolia Sword apart from other Mulan retellings is the north-south regional differences and Rouran history that Thomas incorporated into the tale. Chinese history, like most forms of written history, is written by the victors. Mulan’s troop also included minorities, some of which descended from the enemy they were fighting. Thomas didn’t treat China as a monolith fighting against a foreign invader, and I appreciate that she brought more nuance to the story instead of having clear cut good guys vs. bad guys. In fact, Mulan had to find out who to trust even within her own family. This was a really refreshing aspect to the tale.
The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller
Mental health, science and flawed parents — Keller explored these themes in The Science of Breakable Things. I liked that Natalie is a little bit naive in that she thinks she can “solve” her mother’s depression by bringing her a reminder of her passion, which is a rare flower that she studied in her former lab. We might not be that naive but don’t we all want to solve our loved ones’ problems or bring back the past in some way?
Of course, it doesn’t work and Natalie finds out. But what she did accomplish is bringing depression to the surface as something that exists. It’s not an elephant in the room. It’s what her mother has, and there’s no easy way to erase it or make her mom better. And I think the fact that a kids’ book acknowledges that is very beautiful.
Before the Sword by Grace Lin
Grace Lin is one of my favorite authors, and Chinese folktales are her strength. Before the Sword is an original prequel to Mulan, when she was a girl. This book shares the same canon as Disney’s live action, so Mulan has a sister, Xiu, who was bitten by a poisonous spider. Mulan goes on a journey to find a cure, accompanied by the Rabbit and later, an Immortal named Lu Ting-Pin. The outcome of the book is that she finds out her destiny as a warrior, and the reader learns the origin and motivations of Xianniang.
Lin incorporates tales within the story, just as she did the “The Mountain Meets the Moon” trilogy. I love how the tales connect, and the comment thread is that the villain is the White Fox! She is so evil and beguiling. But the most interesting character to me is actually Xianniang. She and Mulan have a lot in common — feeling unwanted and a little bit lost. They both went on a journey with Rabbit, but where Mulan succeeded in bringing back a cure for her sister, Xianniang fell into the grasp of the White Fox, who, [SPOILER ALERT] was actually her mother! By the end of the story, I was rooting for Xianniang to find her place, even in the form of a witch joining the Rouran warriors. I’m excited for her and Mulan to meet again because they understand each other.
Ticket to India by N. H. Senzai
Partition, the separation of Pakistan from India, was an extremely traumatic event for both Indians and Pakistanis. When a line is literally drawn between religions, homes and families, the impact is felt for generations and it can never truly heal. N. H. Senzai identifies with both Pakistan and India, and Ticket to India explores what that’s like. It’s not that Pakistan and India are so different, or there’s pride in being from either country (as superior to the other) — it’s that there’s always a longing for home that never goes away.
The protagonist, Maya, is on a quest to find her grandmother’s treasure chest that she left behind when her family went to Pakistan after Partition. Maya finds that India is a place of contrasts; it has a lot of beauty as well as a lot of ugliness, but it’s nonetheless her grandmother’s home. This is the second book I’ve read from Senzai, and she really is the gold standard in South Asian MG lit.
Reflection by Elizabeth Lim
This was a YA adaptation that’s part of “Twisted Tales,” a series that takes a dark turn from the Disney versions. Reflection begins when Shang dies from saving Mulan from the Huns, and Mulan decides to follow him into the underworld, diyu, to take him back to earth. After talking to my friend Lynn, I realized this is a gender-swapped version of the Greek myth Eurydice and Orpheus. In the Greek version, Orpheus’s task is to bring his wife back to life, and he fails at the last second when he looks back at her.
In this version, Mulan is the one saving Shang. She’s still disguised as Ping, and the climax of the story happens when he finds out that she has been lying to him. [Spoiler alert] The penultimate test comes when an image of Shang abandons her in hell, and she has to believe that even though he would do that, she has to keep her end of the deal with King Yama, the king of hell. The final trial is that she has to select who she is — Mulan or Ping, among a pond of mirrors that reflects different versions of herself. I identified with this part because I feel like I’m always trying to find my true self, or fighting for it to come out.
I think all of these books deal with trauma. Whether it’s separation, illness, or the day-to-day stressors of marriage, they all have a big impact on us and require healing. I admire the protagonists in these books for finding their own form of healing. 🙏💙 Whether it’s photography, drawing, writing, therapy, or coming to terms with oneself, like Lucy Grealy did, healing is the best thing about life.
Dept. Of Speculation by Jenny Offill
This was the first time I read Jenny Offill. I read a description of her writing as like text messages, and it’s so right. Dept. of Speculation is about a marriage. The subject reminds me of The Course of Love by Alain de Botton. It chronicles the relationship that starts with what feels like a special meeting, then gets into marriage and the minor annoyances that build up until the marriage becomes a problem.
I’m not sure I am a fan of these stories, although I’m sure they will get told many times. The bleak and hyper-realistic look into a marriage can feel like warning, or maybe for people who are married, it feels super relatable. In any case, I’ve heard great things about Weather and I will read that next!
Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy
Lucy Grealy suffered a lot from a series of surgeries that she had as a child, when she got Ewing’s sarcoma. Throughout her life, she has wanted to look normal. I love this book as a counter to Wonder, which looks at disfigurement as something inspirational. But it’s okay to not want to live with a disfigured or ugly face. It’s okay to be like Lucy Grealy and want to look like who you know yourself to be. The fact is surgery changed how she looked, and her post-surgery face is not her own, anymore than the
Grealy has a very unflinching look at herself. She’s totally honest about her wants and needs, the ways they’re not met, and how she came to terms with all of it. After many failed surgeries, some of which spanned years, she decided that this is the face she will live with, and she went on to have flings, relationships, and a good time, as good as any of us may have. I’m so glad Lucy Grealy left this behind for us. Thank you, Lucy.
Shooting Kabul by N. H. Senzai
I love N. H. Senzai’s historical fiction for kids. Shooting Kabul is about a family escaping from Afghanistan, and the main character’s younger sister gets left behind. The family settles in Fremont, where there is an Afghan community. Fadi and his father love photography, and Fadi gets into the photography club at his school, even though he can’t pay for it. His older teen sister helps him pay for the club fees, and he enters a contest by photographing his grandparents.
This book was published in 2020, before #OwnVoices and the Diverse Books movement properly started. It’s set in 2001, and it depicts the prejudice and aggressions that kids like Fadi faced after the 9/11 attacks. I think that was my favorite part of it because it still happens today. In one scene, the bullies mistake a Sikh kid as Muslim because of how he looks. That totally happens!!! Ugh.
I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day
This has become one of my favorite books. Edie’s mom is adopted, but she has never talked to her about who Edie is named after. One day, Edie finds a picture of her biological grandmother, also named Edith. The story is about Edie finding out who Edith and who she is. This book gives background to the Indian Child Welfare Act. It’s heartbreaking to think that the government separated so many Indian families for no reason, and what kind of traumatic impact that has had generations after.
The book left me wanting to learn more about Edith. So many elders have passed away without their voices heard. To be separated from your child must be like dying while alive. Another aspect of this book that I enjoyed was the fact that Edie loves drawing, the salmon motif, and the strong sense of place in Seattle. I enjoyed this book and hope to read more from Christine Day.
How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones
I follow Saeed on Twitter and he is such a gem — a powerful gem. I also saw that Tiffany Young got his memoir at the bookstore! Right now seems like a fitting time to read this book because we are very literally, fighting for our lives.
Jones is brutally honest here. There is a lot of sex, generational trauma, coming of age and PAIN here. It hurts to read but it is so good. It’s about living unapologetically because when you’re a a gay Black man like Jones, the act of existing is defiant. Like Lucy Grealy’s memoir, How We Fight is not written to be inspiring to us, but it is. The spirit of living and survivorship is strong. Reading these memoirs make me feel like I need to do the right thing and keep living, as hard as it may be.
Which autobiographies or #ownvoices stories have inspired you?
It’s been great exploring nonfiction this year because there are many interesting perspectives. Going in-depth on one topic is so satisfying. Also, I love reading blog posts, and reading essays has been a similar experience. It’s personal yet informational.
Here are three nonfiction books I read recently, that I have enjoyed.
Labor of Love by Moira Weigel is about dating. It talks about how dating came to be so much like work. When we use metaphors like “on/off the market,” it’s really not a metaphor because a good part of dating is transactional! Weigel describes the history of dating from the beginning of the 1900s to now, through the eras of “calling cards,” to going steady, to online dating.
One thing that Weigel does well is that she is mindful of the fact dating is not the same experience for middle class White daters and LGBT and/or Black daters. For example, working (and dating) outside the home might have been liberating and a big change for White women, but Black women have always had to work outside the home. The history of dating is a constant shift in power between dating partners. The book explores these shifts by answering these questions:
Where does dating take place? In the home, outside, on the internet?
How do social forces like schooling, technology, and feminism affect dating?
In what ways does dating become work?
I really enjoyed this book. Weirdly, I did not come away feeling pessimistic about relationships. I agree with the author’s conclusion — dating (and to that end, procreating) is incredibly creative and changes the world.
The Pretty One by Keah Brown
I follow Keah on Twitter, and just like on social media, she is vulnerable and speaks candidly about being a disabled, queer, Black woman. She created the #disabledandcute hashtag. She loves pop culture and is an entertainment journalist. She’s a big fan of Paramore. It was like getting to know a friend, and I love how The Pretty One is not strictly a memoir but also her thoughts on pop culture. The truth is, pop culture does a really poor job of representing people like Keah, but that doesn’t stop her from being a fan of it and talking about it. And I’m very glad she has a voice.
Nadya is incredible! I got into the menstrual movement last year and even though periods are just one out of many forms of inequality that comes with having a female body, it is worth talking about. It’s such a basic need that when it is ignored or not being met, it has a huge impact on daily life. Okamoto talks about how talking to homeless women about their menstrual needs, opened her eyes.
From these three books, I’m learning that for any feminist discussion to be productive, it has to be intersectional. It’s not enough to say that women are being short-changed in dating, in disability, and in menstruation. There is a hierarchy within those forums. Being able-bodied and cis-gendered means that I have privileges that make my experience more comfortable.
I’m grateful to these writers for sharing their knowledge and perspectives.
A Tear in the Ocean by H. M. Bouwman
I loved A Crack in the Sea. It was such a unique cross-genre book! I loved Rayel, Artie, and Putnam here too. Rayel’s character spoke the most to me. She has been hurt many times, and the saddest part of the book was when Una/Nunu had a falling out with her. I like that the book doesn’t shy away from child abuse, arranged marriages and how strong children are. They survive these hardships and go on to build new lives, even if the scars remain. You’re not going to get better or be as happy as before those traumas. But you can build a new life – and that’s an encouraging message.
Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship by Chitra Soundar / illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy
I love short stories! This was such a fun read. The stories are like riddles / brain teasers. If you like Encyclopedia Brown, you will enjoy this. The prince Veera and his best friend Suku take court and solve a variety of dilemmas that citizens have. Neighborhood quarrels and greedy merchants are put in their place.
Here’s to short stories and essays, written by women and written for everyone!
Two of these books are based on real events, one is an imagining of the future, and one is an imagining of the past. Whether it’s real or imagined, building a rich world helps the reader get into a story. I came to appreciate that more this year because I have been diving deep into certain topics. I enjoy longform nonfiction and realistic fiction that offer a lot of context for explaining why characters do what they do, and the risks and rewards they face in their world.
The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater
This book has been on my list for a long time and I’m so glad I finally read it. Slater is a journalist and this true event was originally about a Black teen who lit a nonbinary teen’s skirt on fire. By talking to people from Sasha’s parents to Richard’s counselor, Slater was able to find what happened before that eventful day and the aftermath. Justice is not straightforward, and The 57 Bus challenges our assumptions about it. Juvenile crimes, teenage impulses, and the process of figuring yourself out — no single court decision can capture all of that. If only we could look at more crimes and events with the level of questioning and research that happens in The 57 Bus.
Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh
Rebels can either want to build a new world, or they can fight hard for the world that used to be. Rebel Seoul is Lee Jaewon’s story about choosing an alliance, being a weapon vs. a person, and coming to terms with who your parents are. Jaewon’s father is an idealistic rebel who fought for the Old Seoul. Jaewon lives in Neo Seoul, during sometime in the future when Asian countries have become an alliance, after 50 years of war.
Oh is not only writing about God Machines, simulations and technologies, but she is also constructing history. I enjoyed this story for the fast pace and I felt the tug of war that Jaewon was facing.
Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes
TowersFalling is set 15 years after 9/11. Rhodes, the author of Ghost Boys, writes in such a poetic way. Kids like Dèja, born after 2001, are still living in the aftermath of 9/11. It isn’t just a historical event, but personal in the way it affects witnesses and survivors. Dèja’s father worked in one of the towers and he has been suffering from PTSD ever since 2001. This is a great book for social studies and looks at the impact events have on individuals, families, schools and communities.
Did not finish
Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson – I have heard so many great things about M.T. Anderson, and this book was written in a unique format with documents. Anderson really was consutructing history. I may return to this someday but not now.
Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins – This is Suzanne Collins’s debut book, so of course I wanted to read it. I honestly only didn’t because I ran out of time and the book was due. I will have to get to it someday! The Hunger Games was great at worldbuilding, and I want to see how Collins did it here.