Overcome Your Reading Slump with Graphic Novels!

I’ve been in a reading slump for a long time, and reading graphic novels got me out of it! Here are five that I read. I’m going to make another post on Flamer by Mike Curato because that was simply amazing.

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley is based on her experience moving to a farm when her mom moved to be with her boyfriend. She has a hard time with her stepsisters and stepdad. Lucy Knisley’s graphic memoirs are so heartfelt, and she doesn’t shy away from talking about uncomfortable feelings. It was a miserable experience for her, being put down by her stepdad and bossed around by her stepsister. He erased the chalkboard sign she designed! Her mom also did not have her back. I just feel so glad that Lucy survived this experience.

Bad Sister by Charice Mericle Harper is a memoir about being a bad sister — a really terrible one. She used the power of the boss, lies, blame, dare and trick, and eventually, her brother got hurt and broke his tooth. She learned that the most important powers are the power to lead and the power to forgive. The pranks she describes are so specific, you know they happened: eating half of a pie, daring the neighborhood kids to go in the inner tube, and not sharing her treasures from the dumper. I really enjoyed this, and what a meaningful apology and reflection.

Chunky by Yehudi Mercado is a memoir about growing up as an injured Mexican-Jewish kid in Texas. Hudi tried to get into sports to lose weight, but sports were not his thing. Chunky is his imaginary mascot/friend who cheered him on after each game and every season. Eventually, Hudi found that comedy was his sport. I loved how Hudi dealt with his weight and being bad at sports with humor, and his relationship with Chunky was super cute.

Jukebox by Nidhi Chanani is all about the music of the 60s and 70s! The main character and her cousin took a spin through time, going back to the women’s march on Washington, James Brown’s concert in Boston after Dr. King’s assassination, and more. I loved how colorful, clean and bold Nidhi Chanani’s art is. This was a very creative way of combining history, music and time travel.

City of Secrets by Victoria Ying is a steampunk fantasy with swtichboards, orphans and a secret society of four families! Victoria Ying is a storyboard artist, and that really came through in this graphic novel. I love Ever and Hannah, but I did not like the depictions of some of the men hitting the women workers.

Review of Nyuki and Flamer to come!

First person narrative from Fall 2020

This is a very long overdue post of books from Fall 2020! This is Candelwick’s young adult list from two falls ago, and they are very strong first-person narratives. I gave my copy of Rural Voices away, but I really want to read it again. I also want to read Everything I Thought I Knew! These are the two books I did read, and I loved them. They are both novels-in-verse about young women who find themselves in a world that wants to label, sexualize and take advantage of them.

Blood Moon by Lucy Cuthew is a novel-in-verse about periods, girls’ reputations, and the way words and images travel instantly in high school. All it takes is the person sitting behind you looking over your shoulders, or your friend hearing your conversation with a teacher in passing, for a rumor to grow. I felt for the way the main character felt like she could not even go to school anymore, and the rumor literally made her sick. Rumors do spread like cancer — ask any woman who has had words, whether true or untrue, spread about her. Rumors are toxic and I so feel for the way women have to deal with that. But the best part of Blood Moon is how the girls came together and reclaimed their reputation and their bodies. Love to see that!

Somebody Give This Heart a Pen by Sophia Thakur is a series of poems / spoken words from a young woman’s perspective. Fans of Elizabeth Acevedo may enjoy this — it reminds me of The Poet X , except written from the author’s perspective instead of fictional Xiomara’s. She talks about her body and how it attracts looks, the way she feels both minimized and hypervisible, and how becoming a woman is just a really full experience. It’s an experience I love reading about in spoken word! Thakur’s energy really comes through.

Book reviews, from one year ago!

I actually borrowed these books last year, and I am only writing about them now! I literally read Watch Over Me the week of the election. I can’t believe it has been one year. The chillier weather this time of the year always reminds me of Fall 2016 and last year.

From last year: “It has been a very wild time the past few months and I’ve found it hard to read, but there are a few books I managed to squeeze in when my mind wasn’t occupied with resisting fascism!”

Watch Over Me by Nina Lacour

Nina Lacour writes beautifully. Someone on Goodreads described it as drinking a glass of water, and this one definitely feels like that. It is triggering because of the abuse and gaslighting that happened to Mila and her mom. It’s also very atmospheric–it was set in a farm in rural northern California. It’s a ghost story and the book gave me a kind of bruised feeling. There is so little that you can tell about a person. There is no way you can tell what trauma and longing they are going through. The way Mila finds healing through Lee is something I can relate to.

Are You Listening? by Tillie Walden

It’s hazy in my mind, and the book felt like a dream. I love the loose lines in Tillie Walden’s graphic novels. This one is about two women and a cat who take a road trip across west Texas. I vaguely remember an incident of sexual harassment or assault being the reason one of the women is on the run. I actually don’t remember where they are going or if they ever arrived. I’m in this state of mind a lot the past three years, feeling like I am running away or trying to leave my trauma behind, and not knowing exactly where I was going. This captures some of those feelings.

Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee

I did not finish this, but I will! It’s about Taiwan.

Darius the Great Deserves Better by Adib Khorram

In this sequel, Darius has a lot on his plate: he has an internship at his favorite tea shop, he has a boyfriend, and he is on a soccer team. He’s passionate about tea, his first relationship and obviously, soccer, but they become a lot to balance, and he doesn’t feel so good about them after all. I totally relate to this because I was literally that in Darius’s shoes the 2017-2018 school year. It was kind of miserable and really hard. Darius and I both deserve better.

The Other Side of the Sky by Amie Kaufmann and Meagan Spooner

This was for Phelicity’s book club, but I did not finish it. I will come back to this because it’s been described as having Ghibli vibes, and I am very much for it.

I love going in the queue and remembering books from 2020!

Book Reviews from Last Year! pt. 2

Here are a few books I checked out 10 months ago and have read over the past year! There are two books about Black teenagers, two graphic novels about Asian Americans, and one illustrated book called They Threw Us Away that I will be reading soon.

The Blue Flamingo by Dean Atta is a novel-in-verse about a a gay Jamaican-Greek teen growing up in London. It’s a story about coming out, and how it isn’t the moment you declare to the world that you are gay, but your entire life up until that point: The inquiry into your sexuality, what makes you feel like yourself, and what the people around you say about gender. I love when Michael joined the Drag Society and got to present himself. I found the part before he came out to be the most touching–all the moments when he wanted to play with femininity and the risks that incurred. Thank you, Dean Atta, for this amazing book! A straight-forward plot can still be a compelling book.

Displacement by Kiku Hughes is a flashback to WWII Japanese internment camps. The background is the anti-immigration rhetoric and xenophobia post-2016, and the flashbacks are Japanese American life in the camps when the narrator spends time with her grandmother. It’s not only about the loss of civil liberties, but also how people organized and resisted inside the camps. History might present great oppressions happening just as they are, but there is always resistance. People recognized that what was happening to them was wrong, and they fought it, just as people will continue to do.

Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte, illustrated by Ann Xu is about Cici! She moved with her family from Taiwan to Seattle, and she plans to earn her A-Ma’s ticket to the States by winning a kids’ cooking contest. It has all my favorite ingredients of middle grade: a quest, a protagonist with a lot of heart, things not going your way, and unlikely allies and friends.

Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles–I’m reading this now and will update when I’m done.

Book Reviews from Last Year! pt. 1

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.

To be continued!

Xiomara, Yahaira, Camino and Emoni: Elizabeth Acevedo’s Teen Girl Characters

Clap When You Land and With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

Elizabeth Acevedo just does not miss!

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.

And that is just so beautiful.

“Chance” by Uri Shulevitz

“Chance: Escape from the Holocaust” by Uri Shulevitz

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.

Book Reviews From Last Year! pt. 3

These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy Card is such an outstanding book. Despite the cute cover, it’s a dark book. The depictions of slavery and sexual violence stuck to me.

The book follows the life and death of Abel Paisley, a man who faked his own death so he can begin a new one. We find out about his ancestors and descendants, all of whom have suffered because of slavery, migration and racism. Those forms of oppression are compounded for women.

There are so many incidents in the book that are memorable. Debbie, one of the slaveowner’s white descendants, finds her ancestor, Harold Fowler’s, diary and threw the pages in a river to literally get rid of the atrocities in it and drown him, the way he drowned his slaves. The incident that got me was when the slaveowner found Maddie, his slave, taking some honey from the jar. He punished her by pouring honey on her feet and having fire ants, rats and mosquitoes eat her flesh.

Slavery is living hell. How are human beings capable of devising such evil? How do people survive it?

Yet, we all are capable of it. In one of the later chapters, Abel Kincaid remembers hearing his mother maybe flushing his grandfather’s ashes down the toilet because he was a cheater and ruined so many people’s lives. Bernard, the yard boy who Vera raped and took advantage of his entire adult life, is the reason that three girls came to haunt Harold Town. It’s gutting the way men and women are capable of destroying another person through sexual violence.

I have such a wounded and depressing feeling after reading These Ghosts Are Family. But I am so glad Maisy Card wrote it.

Comfort #OwnVoices reads

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 Nothing for 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 Mochi by 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 More by 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.