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!

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.

Constructing and reconstructing reality in YA lit

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

Towers Falling 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.