Sissy

by Jacob Tobia
First sentence: “I never really got to have a childhood.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: March 5, 2019
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and some talk of sex. It will be in the Biography section of the bookstore.

Jacob Tobia (they/them) is a lot of things: a writer, an activist, a performer, a producer. What they are not is someone who fits into what society has defined as “male” and “female”. This memoir, which is absolutely delightful to read, follows Tobia through their childhood, as they struggle with their “male” body and their desires to present more feminine.

To be honest, I have no idea if I’m even talking about this correctly. I really did enjoy reading Tobia’s book, and it made me think about the way I was raised and the things that I have either consciously or unconsciously inherited from society, and the way I look at other people. But, aside from being challenging — not a challenging read, but it did give me things to think about — it was highly entertaining. Tobia has a great writing voice, and the book is fun and funny as well as heartbreaking at times. It’s made me think about trans people (especially since my nephew is trans) and the ways in which society at large just isn’t equipped to handle people who don’t feel they fit within a binary system. (And it’s little things, like gendered bathrooms, or a pregnant co-worker who says “We found out the gender; it’s a boy!” that are making me think.)

I think Tobia has an important story that is not only relevant, but entertainingly told and highly engaging as well.

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The Moon Within

by Aida Salazar
First sentence: “There is a locket in my heart that holds all of the questions that do cartwheels in my mind and gurgle up to the top of my brain like root beer fizz.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: February 26, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is frank talk of puberty and the way girls bodies change. It’ll probably be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, though it’s perfectly appropriate for younger kids, if parents don’t mind the subject matter.

Celi Rivera is many things: A bomba dancer. The daughter of a Mexican mother and an Afro-Puerto Rican father. A friend to Magda, who is transitioning and wants to go by Marco and use he/him pronouns. A girl who has a crush on Ivan. Except things aren’t as simple as they seem on paper: Ivan is a bit of a jerk to Magda, especially after he changes his name to Marco. Celi’s mother, whom she loves, has decided that she wants to have a moon ceremony when Celi gets her first period, something which her mother feels is honoring their ancestry, but Celi just feels is embarrassing. Being 11 almost 12 is tough, and Celi’s trying very hard to navigate the transition from childhood.

On the one hand, I loved the language and culture in this slim novel in verse. Salazar has a talent for poetry, and I loved how she effortlessly she worked the Xicana traditions in the book. It was a bit hippy-dippy for even me (a lot of moon lore and nature tradition), but I didn’t mind that. What I did mind was the mom. Chalk this up to years of reading middle grade and YA books, but I get really annoyed when parents just barrel ahead, not listening to the desires of their kids, and do what they want to do, thinking it’s the Best Thing. Sometimes it is (in this case, it turned out well), but often, it isn’t. And it frustrates me. Children, pre-teens, and teenagers have desires too. And wants. And they need to feel like they can talk to adults about them. And the mom, in this book, just didn’t listen. Which really annoyed me.

But that’s me. There is much to appreciate in this book, and perhaps there are kids out there who probably have parents like this who can relate to Celi and her struggles.

New Kid

by Jerry Craft
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: February 5, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some bullying, and it’s a bit on the longer side. It will be in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

In the letter that accompanied the ARC, Craft wrote that he wanted to draw a graphic novel that featured kids who looked like him because he didn’t find any when he (or his sons) were growing up. He wanted to feature a kid of color, having some of the experiences — that were not just “gritty” — that kids of color have. And I think, with this graphic novel, he succeeded.

It’s the story of a kid — Jordan Banks — who wants to draw and go to an art school but whose parents have decided that a fancy (white and rich) prep school will give him better opportunities in life. Problem is Jordan doesn’t want to go to a fancy prep school, especially one where he’s in the minority.

The book follows the school year — my favorite thing was the chapter titles that referenced movies (Upper, Upper West Side Story; Straight Out of South Uptown were a couple that made me smile) — as Jordan learns the ins and outs of making friends, standing up for himself and others, and the ways in which well-meaning white people just Don’t Get It.

It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s honest, and it’s eye-opening, and Craft is definitely a graphic novelist to keep an eye on.

On the Come Up

by Angie Thomas
First sentence: “I might have to kill somebody tonight.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: February 5, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and some violence. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+), but if you read The Hate U Give, then this will be good for you.

Bri has one goal in life: to be a rapper. She’s a talented poet, she’s good at thinking on her feet, and she has a killer beat. However, that’s not what her mother — especially after Bri’s father, a semi-famous rapper, was killed in a gang war — wants for her. She wants Bri to be like her older brother, focusing on school, getting into a good college, and Be Something. But, things are rough for their family: sometimes they go without heat or electricity because it’s tough making ends meet, and when Bri’s mom loses her job, Bri’s determined to make a go of being a rapper.

But things backfire: at the expensive (white) prep school that Bri attends, she’s apprehended by the security guards for carrying contraband (in this case, candy she sold to make a few dollars) and it spirals into a referendum on racism and profiling that Bri doesn’t want to be stuck in the middle of.

Bri’s story is one of heart and hopefulness — is she really “on the come up”? Can she make it with just talent, and not by succumbing to the racist whims of studio executives? — with an underlying look at the everyday racism and trials that Black people go through. It’s not as heart wrenching as THUG was, but it is eye-opening, especially for a middle-aged white woman who is trying to see the world through a different pair of eyes. Thomas is a talented writer, telling stories that not only are representative for the world around her and accessible to her target audience, but are also Important for everyone to read.

Excellent.

The Witch Boy and The Hidden Witch

The Witch Boy
by Molly Knox Ostertag
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there (Witch Boy and The Hidden Witch)!
Content: There are some intense images of violence. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

I’d been seeing this one on a LOT of the best-of 2018 lists and I realized I knew NOTHING about it (I had gotten it in, but really paid no attention to it), so I realized I needed to get this one and read it. And since it looked up K’s ally, I decided to buy both it and the sequel as well.

Aster is part of this old magical family, where the girls are all witches and the boys are all shape-shifters. But Aster, at 13, has realized that his talents lie with being a witch rather than a shape-shifter. Except, because that’s what GIRLS do and he’s obviously not a girl, he’s forbidden. Like actively. Every time they find him sneaking around trying to learn witchcraft, the women shame him and shun him. Especially since the last time a boy tried to be a witch — Aster’s grandmother’s brother — he turned into a monster and was never seen again.

(Yes, I do think this is meant to be a feminist allegory for gender roles and toxic masculinity and how silly they are. If a boy wants to be a witch, then LET HIM BE A WITCH.)

Things get complicated when Aster’s cousins — all of whom embrace the traditional male role and become shape-shifters — start disappearing. And Aster — because he’s both male and a witch — is the only one who can save them.

The story continues in The Hidden Witch; Aster’s family has (kind of sort of) accepted him as a witch and is trying to teach him, when his non-magical friend, Charlie, gets attacked by a bit of dark magic called a “Fetch”. It turns out that there’s a rogue witch in town, and the family has to figure out how to take care of them.

This one, honestly, wasn’t as good as Witch Boy, which I adored. She did wrap up the story of the grandmother’s brother, which was left hanging in the first book, but I’m not sure how much I cared about that. I did like seeing Aster use his witchcraft to help Charlie figure out where the Fetch was coming from, but it just didn’t have the larger conflict that Witch Boy had. Even so, it’s delightful series, expertly drawn (Ostertag worked on Star vs. the Forces of Evil, and her art style fits that). I adore the friendship between Aster and Charlie, and I liked how Ostertag worked in diversity without making it a huge “look at me, I’m diverse” issue.

She’s a solid graphic novelist, and someone I’m excited to see more from.

It’s the Cybils Finalists!

This was my first year doing YA (speculative fiction, of course) and I honestly didn’t know how it would go. I’ve kind of suspected for a long time that I’ve got a middle grade reading sensibility, so was I going to be “cool” enough for the YA Crowd? But I had seemed to gravitate more toward YA this past year, and they needed help, so I thought I’d give it a try.

And it went really well. We had a great set of panelists, that — even when we disagreed with each other, we were able to have great discussions and talk about the books rather than just our reactions to them. It was lovely. And in the end, we came up with a shortlist that I (at least, though I suspect all of us) can be proud of.

Summer of Salt
Dread Nation
Tess of the Road
Pitch Dark
Not Even Bones
This Mortal Coil
Mirage

Go check out all of the other great shortlists at the Cybils website!

My Best of 2018

There was really SO many good books this year, it was super hard to choose. And I managed to shake a bit of a reading slump; I haven’t read this many books in two years! I’m quite proud of myself. I’ve also increased the books by nonwhite authors. Still not as high as I want it to be, but a quarter of my reading is much better than I’ve done in the past.

By the numbers:

Middle Grade Fiction: 42
YA Fiction: 71
Graphic Novels: 30
Non-Fiction: 12
Adult Fiction: 16
Number of those that were sci-fi/fantasy books, not counting graphic novels:  64
Number of those that were by authors of color: 42
Number of those that were audio books: 10
Number of those that were rereads: 21

Grand Total: 171

My top twelve (because even), in no particular order:

When They Call You a Terrorist
Scythe
Moonrise
Pride
Flocks
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Hey, Kiddo
The Parker Inheritance
Sweep
Friday Black
Dear Martin
The Penderwicks at Last

The best rereads:

Ones you NEED to read:

Caterpillar Summer (April 2)
Wicked King (January 8)
The Deceivers (February 5)
Bloom (February 12)
A Curse So Dark and Lonely (January 29)

And don’t forget that the Cybils are announcing the shortlists tomorrow! Quite a few of my favorites are on there.

What was your favorite this year?