Monthly Round-Up: November 2021

To be honest, looking at the list of books here, I’m not sure I had one that resally stood out for me. I’m going to go with choosing this one as my favorite, not because I loved it wholeheartedly, but because I think it resonated with me the most this month.

And the rest:

YA

When Dimple Met Rishi
The Candle and the Flame (DNF)
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit
When I Was the Greatest

Middle Grade

Just Be Cool, Jenna Sakai
The Length of a String
Amina’s Song
Orange for the Sunsets

Non-fiction

Crying in H Mart (audiobook)

What were your favorites this month?

When I Was the Greatest

by Jason Reynolds
First sentence: “‘Okay, I got one.'”
Support your local independent bookstore: Buy it there!
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and talk of teenage drinking. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Allen — call him Ali — lives in Bed Stuy in Brooklyn, and while it’s not the best place to grow up, it’s not the worst, either. He has a mom who works hard and cares a lot about Ali and his sister Jaz. And even though his dad is a bit of a loser, he also cares. The next-door neighbor kids — Needles and Noodles; Jazz game them the nicknames — not so much. They’re brothers, and Needles as Tourettes Syndrome, which makes Noodles simultaneously super protective and incredibly dismissive of his brother.

It’s basically a slice of life story; this is Ali and Noodles and Needles and their lives and interactions. The only conflict that happens is when they invite themselves to a party they are not suposed to be at, and then Needles’ has a spasm and inadvertantly starts a fight.

It’s not my favorite of Reynolds’ books, to say the least. I disliked his portaryal of Tourettes, and while i think he was trying to deal with acceptance of disabilites in the Black community, I think he fell short of the mark. It was good enough to finish, but not good enough to really like.

Orange for the Sunsets

by Tina Athaide
First sentence: “Yesofu glanced at his watch.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some violence and name calling. It’s in the middle grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

History I didn’t know about: The British colonized Uganda and brought in Indians to do work for them. When the British left, the Indians stayed, filling the hole that the colonizers left. Then, in 1972, there was a military coup, and Idi Amin took over the country. One of the things he decided was that Uganda was for the Black people who have been oppressed, and the Indians — many of whom were citizens or had been born there — needed to get out. He gave them 90 days.

Asha is an Indian, whose best friend is Yesofu, the son of her family’s (Black) servant. They’re best friends, inseperable. That is, utnil Amin gives the order for the Indians to leave. Suddenly they find themselves on opposite sides: Asha believing she is Ugandan and deserves to stay; Yesovu wanting to have what Asha always has had: a good job, a nice house, running water.

There is more to the plot, as the book follows the 90 day countdown. Asha’s father is involved in getting people out of the country; Yesofu is friends with another kid who is incredibly militant about Amin’s orders, to the point of harming Asha.

I am uncertain what I think about this. On the one hand, it’s a story about a part of history I knew nothing about. I do think it’s important to tell those kinds of stories. But on the other hand, this book wanted me to sympathize with the colonizers, to feel bad that Asha and her family, the Indians who had lived in Uganda, were getting expelled from their home. And I did, but. well, Yesofu had a point too: it wasn’t fair that the native people, the Black people of Uganda were kept in lower positions. I think Athaibe wanted to balance both sides of the story, but I think it kind of felt maudlin at times: Asha and Yesofu trying to hold on to an obviously doomed friendship. I also think Athaibe hammered the corruption of the soldiers home too hard: the last scene is a soldier taking Asha’s mother’s gold bangles as a “payment” to let them leave. It may be true, but it was a bit heavy-handed.

So: conflicted on this one. It wasn’t badly written, but I’m not sure I liked it.

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

by Nahoko Uehashi
translated by Cathy Hirano
First sentence: “At the moment the royal procession reached the Yamakage Bridge, Balsa’s destiny took an unexpected turn.”
Sadly, it’s out of print.
Content: There’s some fighting and the main character is 30. It’s in the teen section of the library.

Balsa is a warrior woman, who is a bodyguard for hire. She saved the life of the Second Crown Prince — he had fallen into a river — which lead her to her most recent job: guarding his life because the prince — Chagun — is carrying the water demon egg inside of him. His life is in danger, partly because his father, the Mikado, is supposed to have descended from the gods, and having a son with a demon egg inside of him isn’t the best thing for public morale. And there’s also the Rarunga — the egg eater — who will do everything it can to stop the egg from hatching.

Okay, that sounds really weird, doesn’t it?

Honestly, though, it worked. It’s a good little fantasy, ripe with adventure and fighting, mysticism, a bit of friendship-turned-romance (but just a small bit), and a crazy old lady. It was kind of like reading a novelization of a manga; not terribly linear with the storytelling, but entertaining nonetheless. Not sure I would have ever picked this up without the class I’m taking (and because this was one of a very few on the reading list; not many works in translation for kids are in my local library) but I’m not sorry that I read it. It was fun, in the end.

Amina’s Song

by Hena Khan
First sentence: “As I reach for a pair of silver earrings that my best friend, Soojin, might like, Zohra smacks my hand away.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Amina’s Voice
Content: There is some talk of “liking” boys. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Amina has spent the last month or so in Pakistan visiting her family. She’s enjoyed her stay, though there are frustrating things: she doesn’t speak Urdu well, and everyone would rather practice their English than let her practice her Urdu. And, even though her family is Pakistani, she feels, well, too American.

But when she gets back home and starts seventh grade, no one seems interested in her trip and her stories. On top of that, for her history project, she chose to research Malala Yousafzai, but her classmates only want to focus on the negative parts of the story How is Amina going to keep her promise to her uncle to champion the good things about Pakistan?

Amina struggles with balancing the two parts of her life: the side that loves Pakistan, and her family and her faith; and the side that feels American and loves living here as well.

I love how Khan balances the conflict within Amina; it must be what many children of immigrants feel. I liked that there was a boy that Amina was friends with, and in spite of her friends thinking there was something “more”, all it was is friendship. It was refreshing to read about a seventh grader who wasn’t looking for a boyfriend. I was thoroughly charmed by this sone, and by Amina. I hope there are more stories of hers to tell.

The Length of a String

by Elissa Brent Weissman
First sentence: “Dear Belle, All my life I’ve shared with you.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is talk of death and the Holocaust, and some crushing on boys. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Imani is stuck on what to do for her bat mitzvah project until her great-grandma Anna passes on, and Imani finds an old diary of Anna’s. Anna came to America, by herself, in 1941, sent by her parents to live with “cousins” in New York City right before the Jews in Luxenburg were deported to ghettos and then to concentration camps. Imani is fascinated by Anna’s story not just because of their religious connection, but because Imani is adopted, and has been wondering about her birth family. Anna’s story is told through a series of letters she wrote in a journal. As Imani dives deeper into Anna’s story she has more and more questions about what makes a family.

This was pretty good. I liked the Jewish aspects of it; the preparing for a bat mitzvah, Hebrew school, and the connections made there. I didn’t mind the historical aspect, because it made the Holocaust relevant to today, as opposed to being stuck in the past. I didn’t mind the adoption story, but I did wonder why a white woman author felt this story needed to have a Black main character. I suppose it was good to let readers know that all Jewish people aren’t white presenting, but I don’t know if it was Weissman’s story to tell. That said, it wasn’t a bad book.

DNF: The Candle and the Flame

by Nafiza Azad
First sentence: “The desert sings of loss, always loss, and if you stand quiet with your eyes closed, it will grieve you too.”
Content: There was some flirting and talk of marriage in the parts that I finished. It’d probably be in the YA (grades 6-8)section of the bookstore if we had it in.

On paper, this should hit all my “really like” buttons: an orphan that survived a massacre and is trying to make ends meet, a city ruled by djinn, magic, fierce girls, sweeping desert vistas, a diverse city on the edge of destruction.

But in actuality? It kind of fell flat. There was WAY too much telling, not nearly enough showing. So much exposition and it was just moving along at a plodding pace (the opener was really good, though). I wanted to like it, but more than 100 pages into it, I realized that I don’t have enough time in my day to spend on a book that I”m not enjoying. Even if it is for a class.

Oh, well. Maybe there’s a djinn book with a fierce girl as the main character out there that is better than this one.

Audiobook: Crying in H Mart

by Michelle Zauner
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There are some swear words, including a few F-bombs It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

This is basically Zauner’s homage to her Korean mother, who passed away from cancer in 2014. She goes through her childhood, how her relationship with her mother developed and struggled, and through her mother’s sickness and her death to the year or so afterward. The thing that ties everything together is Korean food. Her mother’s home cooking, the tastes and smells that accompanied Zauner all through her childhood trips to Seoul to see her mother’s family, and through to watching Mangchi on YouTube after her mother’s death, in order to learn the food traditions that she didn’t want to be lost.

It wasn’t a gad book, and Zauner wasn’t a bad narrator. But, I didn’t quite love it either. At times, Zauner felt like a whiny brat, and I just wanted to shake her. I suppose she was just being honest, and so I can admire her for that. The things I liked best were near the end when she starts learning how to cook Korean food. The chapter where she learns to make kimchee was fascinating. And I understood her pain (sort of? I haven’t lost anyone I was incredibly close to, really) or at the least, I understood that this was how she was processing her pain.

I can respect this book, at least, even if I didn’t love it.

Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World

by Benjamin Alire Saenz
First sentence: “And here he was, Dante, with his head resting on my chest.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Review copy pilfered off the ARC shelves at work.
Content: There is much swearing, including many f-bombs, teenage drinking, and some tasteful sex. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Ah, Aristotle and Dante. I remember liking the first book when it came out, but not loving it. I’ve read Saenz’s stuff since then (like one other book?) And I have respect for his observations on life and living. This is no different.

Picking up where the first book left off, Aristotle and Dante are together, but because it’s 1987, they are not telling many people. Their parents, of course, but really that’s it. See, it’s dangerous to be gay in El Paso in 187. Dante got beat up, as do other characters for being too flamboyant, not “manly” enough. But Ari and Dante learn how to be together, Ari learns how to have friends and be a part of the group, they grw up and graduate, suffer loss, and basically Live.

It’s a beautiful book, full of Love of all kinds, full of Life and Heart. It’s gorgeously written; Saenz knows how to put words that Mean Something on a page. It’s probably a bit long, and the Tragic Event the back cover copy alludes to takes place nearly 2/3 of the way through. But, those re minor complaints. Saenz is a gorgeous writer and this is a gorgeous book.

State of the TBR Pile: November 2021

The pile just keeps growing. And growing. And growing. I look forward to the time when I get to read stuff from this pile, and not from another one. Someday.

The Lst Cuentista by Dona Barba Higuera
Aurora’s End by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
The Heartbreak Bakery by A. R. Capetta
Under the Whispering Door by T. J. Klune
The Hollow Heart by Marie Rutkoski
Friends Forever by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham
The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez
The Near Witch by V.E. Schwab
The Last Thing He Told Me by Larua Dave
The Bachelor by Andrew Palmer
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
Temple Alley Summer by Sashiko Kashiwaba

Which books are you looking forward to this month?