Merci Suarez Can’t Dance

by Meg Medina
First sentence: “It was Miss McDaniel’s idea for me and Wilson Bellevue to work together in the Ram Depot, a job that nobody wants.”
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Content: There is talk of kissing, periods, and puberty. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but I bet 6th graders would love this.
Others in the series: Merci Suarez Changes Gears

It’s halfway through seventh grade, and Merci is kind of (sort of) figuring things out. She’s not happy with her grandfather’s continuing descent, and her aunt isn’t around as much anymore, leaving Merci to babysit her terror twin cousins. And at school she’s trying to get along with Edna, but it doesn’t seem to be working well. And now, there’s the Heart Ball, the seventh grade fundraiser, which Edna is in charge of, and Merci is trying to avoid. But there’s Wilson, the boy she runs the Ram Depot with and maybe (?) may like-like. It’s all, well, a LOT.

This book had a ton of heart. I loved Merci trying to figure her way out, and I adore her family and the way they have each other’s backs. I loved the way Media wrote a character that was dealing with Alzheimer’s, and how the family worked to make his life easier. You could just tell how much the family loved each other. And I liked the middle school angst of it as well. Merci was delightfully awkward, making the best decisions she could, mostly, and terribly realistic. It was just a delight to read.

I know this book wasn’t really “necessary”, but I’ll take more Merci books any time.

On the Hook

by Francisco X. Stork
First sentence: “Hector could tell that Ai wanted to discuss something.”
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Content: There was a lot of violence, and some talk of drug use and addiction. There is swearing, but in Spanish. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I think it’d be good for younger kids as well.

Hector lives a very small life. His father passed away a few years ago, and he and his mother, brother, and sister are all trying to scrape by. They had to move from their home and into the projects, wher ethey live next to drug dealers, one of whom, Chavo, has a beef with Hector’s brother, Fili. Hector just wants to stay out of the way. But Chavo’s brother, Joey, seeks him out to intimidate and assault Hector, and gets into Hector’s brain. Suddenly, Hector is convinced he’s not a “real man”, and when Chavo and Fili get into an altercation (over a girl), both Hector and Joey do rash things and end up in the same juvenile rehabilitation center. Hector has to deal with feelings of hate and revenge, and learn to live with them.

I struggled with this one. Stork played into all sorts of Mexican stereotypes: drug dealers, macho men who can’t deal with feelings except by drinking or through violence, women who really don’t have a say and men who fight over them. Hector has embraced this toxic masculinity and struggles against it, but fails: he has determined that the only way to “balance” things is to kill Joey. I found myself loathing Hector as the book went on; he wasn’t a fun character to live with.

And I know there are always truth to stereotypes, and books need to be written about people who struggle with toxic masculinity and come through on the other side, which Hector did. (The one thing I did like: Hector and Joey never became friends. That would have been much too maudlin.) But that doesn’t mean it was fun to read.

Me, Frida, and the Secret of the Peacock Ring

by Angela Cervantes
First sentence: “Whether she liked it or not, Paloma Marquez was in Mexico City for a whole month. “
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Content: There are a few intense moments. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Paloma is being dragged to Mexico City because her mother has a fellowship there. It’s the home of her father, who died when Paloma was young, but even that doesn’t make Paloma any less grumpy about not being able to spend the summer with her friends by the pool back in Kansas City.

Once in Mexico, though, things start to change. She discovers the art of Frida Kahlo, art that her father loved, and then meets twins Gael and LIzzie, who pull Paloma into solving a mystery: who stole Frida’s peacock ring.

This was a fun little mystery. Paloma did most of the work, figuring out clues, and learning about her father’s heritage as she worked on the mystery. The book was full of facts about Frida and her life and art, as well as small bits about life in Mexico City. Cervantes never tried to make Paloma Mexican; she was always American, she always looked at life from the outside, but she learned to appreciate the culture and language and life around her.

It was a fun read, and possibly my favorite of Cervantes’ books.

The City We Became

by N. K. Jemisin
First sentence: “I sing the city”
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Content: There is violence, including sexual assault, and many f-bombs. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

In this universe, cities are alive, not just in the metaphorical sense but literally. There is a “birth” that results in the city being embodied in a person. Sometimes this doesn’t work — New Orleans was a stillbirth, for example — but mostly it does. Except: in the case of New York City, something has gone awry. It’s not a stillbirth, but it’s not alive, yet.

So the city adapts: five other people wake up, one for each borough. Their purpose is to get together, work together, and wake up New York as a whole. But, they meet unexpected problems in the form of an alien entity that is trying to stop this city from ever becoming alive.

Oh, my word this was so good. I think I liked it better than her Broken Earth trilogy. It’s clever, it’s fun, it’s got a Neil Gaiman feel to it. And I adored the characters as well as the way Jemisin played with race and New York stereotypes in the book. It as a joy to read, one that I plowed through incredibly quickly. And while it stands well on its own, I am fascinated to see where Jemisin takes it with the sequels.

State of the TBR Pile: October 2021

It looks a lot like it did last month. I have added to it, but not taken anything off because of the class I am taking (this week it’s Asian picture books, plus a bonus graphic novel that I may get to). But I like looking at it, thinking that someday, I will be able to read books for myself again. Someday.

Under the Whispering Door by T. J. Klune
Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Saenz
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

I may try to get to Under the Whispering Door because I adore Klune, and Aristotle and Dante may get read during the LGBT week in the class. We’ll see.

What are you looking forward to reading?

White Smoke

by Tiffany D. Jackson
First sentence: “Ah. There you are.”
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Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs and some teenage marijuana usage. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Marigold is looking for a fresh start. Or, at least that’s what she tells herself. She, her brother, her mother, and her stepdad and step-sister are headed away from California, away from Mari’s mistakes and moving to Cedarville for a fresh start. It doesn’t hurt that her mom got a residency there, with free housing. Except: Cedarville isn’t that great of a place. There’s something… off about it. Mari’s hearing sounds in the house. There are smells, and things go missing. Not to mention that every. single. other. house in the neighborhood is boarded up and decrepit looking. It’s all… very, very weird.

I think the mileage on this one depends on how horror-savvy you are. I’m not, so I found it spooky and intimidating and atmospheric. And I had to put it down often just to drop my anxiety levels. But, I suppose if you are the sort of person who likes horror and reads/watches it often, this one might not have the same effect. I did like that Jackson was exploring the idea of gentrification ad the impact it has on the (mostly black and poor) community. I also liked that she talked about unfair incarceration because of drug laws, and how those laws fall differently for black and white people. This horror story has some meat to it.

And then there’s the ending. Without spoilers, I’ll just say it’s kind of abrupt and weird. I wonder if there’s a sequel, because so much is unresolved. Or if Jackson meant it to be that way. At any rate, I found it a fun enough ride.

Audio book: Once upon a Quinceañera

by Monica Gomez-Hira
Read by Frankie Corzo
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There are a number of swear words, including multiple f-bombs, teenage drinking, and one off-screen sex scene. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+ of the bookstore)

Carmen Aguliar has one goal this summer: finish an internship so she can graduate high school. Except her internship is being an assistant for a woman who runs a knock-off Disney princess-for-hire outfit. And, she just hired Carmen’s ex-boyfriend from when she was 15. Who just happens to be behind the reason Carmen’s quinceañera got canceled and she and her mami fell out with her mami’s family. What was going to already be an unbearable summer gets even worse when the “Dreams” get hired to perform at Carme’s cousin’s quince. The same cousin that Carmen and her mami haven’t talked to in three years.

It’s a silly , light romance, one you can see coming from a mile off (lovers to enemies to lovers, gotta love tropes!) but it’s got some heart and soul to it. I liked the portrayal of Cuban-Americans in Miami. Spanish was effortlessly woven through, as was an exploration of stereotypes and expectations (or lack thereof) of Latine women. I adored the narrator; she made Carmen and her friends and family come alive in a way that made me want to keep listening.

Definitely a fun late-summer read.

Undefeated

by Steve Sheinkin
First sentence: “Jim Thorpe looked ridiculous and he knew it – like a scarecrow dressed for football, he’d later say.”
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Content: There are problematic elements regarding Native representation. It’s in the kids biography section of the bookstore.

As part of our Native people unit in this class I am taking, we had to choose a problematic book to read. I was super surprised to see Sheinkin’s work on the list for problematic; I have a hih respect for his work, and assumed that all of his research wa sipeccalbe.

In this instance, he’s looking at the Carlisle Indian School, a residential school — for “civilizing the natives” — run by the government in the late 1800s though the early 1990s. They ended up with a football program, one that went up against the “big” schools of the time — Harvard, Penn, Yale, and Princeton — even though they were a lot smaller and more poorly equipped. It’s also the history of Jim Thorpe, who ended up being the one of Carlisle’s — and possibly the sport’s — greatest athletes. Where Sheinkin ends up being problematic is in the way he talks about the school and about Thorpe’s Native history. As a white person, Sheinkin doesn’t even know what he doesn’t know, and doesn’t know what it is how it is that he needs to write about it. It makes sense that the book would end up being problematic. .

Truthfully, the part of the book I found most fascinating was the history of football. Sheinkin is an excellent writer and was able to write about the games in a way that made them leap off the page. It was interesting to learn about what the game was like in the early days. And it was interesting to learn the role that Carlisle Indian School played in developing and changing the game.

So, yeah: problematic. But still interesting.

Hooky

by Miriam Bonastre Tur
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some bullying, and a few intense moments. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

I picked this up because it looked cute (“ooh! Witches!”). K saw it when I cam e home and delcared that she loved Hooky and had been following it on Webtoons for ages. So, of course I had to read it.

The basic story is witch twins Dani and Dorian missed the bus to their witch school, and so have to fin alternative schooling for the year because they don’t want their (somewhat powerful) parents to find out they’re not at school. There are adventures involving a missing prince, a princess who is determined to rescue said prince, a soothsayer who has determined that one of the twins was going to be the next witch king, a witches gathering… and many opportunities for growth and figuring out oneself. That makes it sound pretty mundane, but it wasn’t. I adored this – it’s fun, it’s cute, it’s got intense moments, and you definitely get attache to the characters. I’m a little bit disappointed it’s not a single story – the book ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, and I’m just glad I didn’t have to wait between segments!

It’s a cute fun graphic novel. I cant’ wait to read the rest of the story!

Monthly Round-Up: September 2021

Between working full time and this class I’m taking, I feel like I don’t have any real time to read. Or, rather, I’m reading all the time, but none of it is “pleasure” reading. Though: It’s generally good, so there’s that.

My favorite this month:

It’s no secret: I adore Varian’s books, and this book is no exception. Heartfelt, relevant, and entertaining, this one is not just for kids.

And, the rest:

Middle Grade:

Finding Langston
Clean Getaway
Indian No More
Black Boy Joy

Graphic Novels

Heartstopper vol. 2 and 3

Non-Fiction:

Fox & I (audio book)
Black Girls Rock

YA:

Six Crimson Cranes
Harlem Summer

Adult Fiction:

Life’s Too Short
Velvet Was the Night (audio book)

What was your favorite this month?