You Bring the Distant Near

by Mitali Perkins
First sentence: “The swimmers have finished their races and are basking in the sun.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

This one is a difficult one to describe plot-wise. It’s a slice of life, looking at three generations of women in an Indian family as they move to America and make a life here. It starts with the mother, Ranee, and her two daughters, Sonia and Tara, as they move from London to New York in the early 1970s. Each of the daughters reacts differently to coming to America, each looking for their own way to cope. Ranee isn’t as adaptable: she complains about their apartment in Flushing, she complains about her husband sending money home. Then he passes on, and Ranee is forced to adapt to this country as her daughters grow up and get married, one to an Indian, the other to a black American man.

The book then picks up when Ranee’s granddaughters, Anna and Chantal, are in high school. They are dealing with their own issues: Chantal is bi-racial and is trying to figure out her own identity. And Anna, though American, was raised in Mumbai where her mother is a Bollywood star, but has recently moved back so she could go to high school and college in America.

Perkins handles all this admirably; giving us a taste of Bengali culture, as well as the things immigrants do in order to fit in. One of the more interesting parts of the novel, for me, was set after 9/11, when Ranee goes through her own transformation as a reaction to the terrorist attacks. She figures out what “American” means to her. And that sentence may be what’s at the heart of this delightful novel: what does “American” mean? Perhaps it has become an individual expression for everyone, and there isn’t a “norm” anymore. (That was probably always the way it was, but we pretended otherwise.) Which is, as posited by this book, a very good thing.

An excellent read.

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Audio Book: Wonder Woman Warbringer

by Leigh Bardugo
Read by Mozhan Marino
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is some violence and several instances of mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I’ll admit that I’m on board with anything Wonder Woman right now, so I probably would have read/listened to this whether or not it was any good. Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry about that, because in Bardugo’s capable hands, it was definitely worth listening to.

It’s a bit of a Wonder Woman origin story, starting with Diana on Themyscira and dealing with feeling like an outcast with the Amazons because she was born rather than earning her spot among them. So, when she inadvertently rescues a mortal from a shipwreck which sets off a chain of events — since the mortal is no ordinary mortal — Diana is forced to leave the island and head out into the mortal world to save her life, her island, and the world from impending war.

Okay, there’s more to it than that; the mortal, Alia, is the daughter of scientists who died in a tragic accident, and who is trying to find her place in the world, out from under the long shadow of her brother, Jason. Her friends, Theo and Nim are fantastic and definitely worth rooting for. There’s a lot of fantastic action (Bardugo knows how to plot a book), as well as some fantastic reflective moments (plus a wee bit of romance).

And Marino is a stellar narrator. Seriously stellar. She had me enthralled, glued to the narrative, anxious to hear what will happen next.

I really can’t ask for anything better.

All the Crooked Saints

by Maggie Stiefvater
First sentence: “You can hear a miracle a long way after dark.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: October 10, 2017
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some swearing, including a couple of f-bombs. It will be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but younger kids might be interested in it.

The problem with this book is that the plot is really hard to describe. There’s a family in the southern Colorado desert, the Sorias, that have basically made a living performing miracles for pilgrims who come to their homestead looking for help. But, it’s much more than about the miracles. There’s a boy who comes looking for help (but not a miracle) and a few pairs of lovers, some who are new and some who have lost their way. In fact, a lot of the plot is about how to find one’s way back from being, well, lost.

It’s historical, set sometime in the 1960s (I had it initially pegged for contemporary, then set in the 1970s… so I was close), but it feels, well, set out of time.

Mostly, though, the best thing about this is, like many Stiefvater novels, the words. She just has a way of telling a story that sucks you in and won’t let you go. And this was no exception. The magic here was less “magic” and more magical realism; it felt like it really could happen, that it was a natural outgrowth of the story, and it made perfect sense.

I’m sure Stiefvater will get some push back for writing a story with Latin@ main characters, but honestly, I don’t think she used stereotypes at all. (Or at least, that’s the way I felt; I’m not a great judge of this.)  I loved all the characters, from the Soria family to the pilgrims, and I loved the way Stiefvater told the story. Everything just seemed to fit.

It’s really a wonderful story.

Moxie

by Jennifer Matthieu
First sentence: “My English teacher Mr. Davies rubs a hand over his military buzz cut.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are several f-bombs as well as other mild swearing. There’s a description of an assault, plus some definitely crude t-shirts worn by guys. There is also teenage drinking. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I’d give it to a younger kid who is interested.

I picked this up on a whim, partially because I met Jennifer Matthieu last fall and she was delightful, but also partially because it looked, well, cool. (Which I am not.) I didn’t realize I was in for a complex and interesting feminist anthem.

Viv is a junior at East Rockport High, where football is king and the boys, literally, get away with anything. Demeaning girls in class. Doing a “March Madness” ranking of them. Play a “game” of “bump-n-grab” (yes, it is exactly like it sounds). The girls complain, but the administration turns a deaf ear. In fact, one could even say they’re part of the problem: doing random dress code checks in which they publicly shame girls for “breaking” the code. Viv has spent her whole life flying under the radar, but after discovering some of her mother’s old Riot Grrrl zines, she decides to take a stand. She starts Moxie, an anonymous zine that she distributes in the bathroom. Initially, she doesn’t know how it will be received, but over the months, the zine takes a life of its own, and helps push back against the culture of the high school.

I loved this one! I loved it for Viv, and her slow awakening — her realizing that there was something she can do to help (maybe) make a difference. I loved it for the ways in which she made a difference, for the realization that feminism is an embracing not a dividing. I loved the slight love story. I loved that Matthieu gave us a diverse high school — we interacted with Latina girls, black girls, gay girls, straight girls… all sorts of girls. I really loved the zines, and the fierceness that is inherent in them: a Moxie girl doesn’t take any crap. Which is really what I loved about this: Viv and her friends learned how to stand up for themselves, demand respect from those around them (especially men!), and enjoy each other.

Give this one to any teenage girl, if only so they know they’re not alone.

Jane, Unlimited

by Kristin Cashore
First sentence: “The house on the cliff looks like a ship disappearing into fog.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: September 19, 2017
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are six (or so) f-bombs, some mention of sex (none actual). It will be in the Teen Section (grades 9+).

Jane’s guardian, her Aunt Magnolia, made her promise one thing before Magnolia left for Antarctica (and then subsequently died): don’t turn down an invitation to Tu Reviens, the home of the eccentric millionaire Octavian Thrash. Jane promises, and so when her former tutor, and Thrash child, Kiran invites Jane to a gala the mansion, Jane agrees to go, unsure of what she’ll find.

At this point, the book reads like your typical YA novel: a girl who’s trying to find herself, a dead “mom”, a mansion with secrets. But, at one point, Jane is asked to make a decision of which person to find and talk to: Mrs. Vanders (the housekeeper), the little girl (whom Jane has seen around the mansion), Kiran, Ravi (Kiran’s twin), or Jasper (the basset hound). And from there the novel diverges into incredibly unique territory. Jane is allowed, throughout the course of the novel, to make each of those decisions, and in doing so, lives five different versions of the day.

I’ll be frank: it took a bit to settle into this. But, as the different versions went on, I caught on to what (I think) Cashore was exploring. One version of “reality” bled into the next, and it got more and more fascinating as it went on. I liked the exploration of the idea of multiverses, I liked seeing how Jane reacted to each of the situations she found herself in. And I found myself getting caught up in each version. Of course, Cashore’s writing is impeccable, and while I caught the Jane Eyre and Winnie the Pooh references, I missed the biggest homage: to Rebecca. (Which means, I should reread this one!)

It really was a delight to read.

Solo

by Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content:  There’s some drug use and drinking, mostly by adults. It’s in the Teen Section (grades 9+) at the bookstore, but I’d give it to a 7th/8th grader who is interested.

Blade Morrison is the son of an aging rocker, whose career has been in a steady decline for most of Blade’s life. Drugs, alcohol, and Blade’s mom’s death all contributed to the decline, and Blade has lost patience with his father. Especially when he shows up, mostly naked, at Blade’s graduation. It also doesn’t help that his girlfriend’s father has forbidden her to see him. So, when a long-kept family secret comes out and Blade ends up half way across the world, he is given a chance to figure out his own life and maybe figure out his relationship with his family.

On the one hand, this was a super privileged book, with its Hollywood sensibilities with parties and drugs (mostly on the part of Blade’s dad) and Misratis and paparazzi. And when Blade gets to Ghana, there’s a LOT of “things are solved through the simple people” going on, which didn’t really sit that well with me. (Maybe it’s me?)

That said, Alexander and Hess’s poetry is lovely, and I loved how they incorporated music. There’s a line, near the end of the book about how, in spite of everything, music is something that binds us and brings us together, and that resonated so very much with me. Rock-n-roll, R&B, jazz, classical… music is universal and helps heal, and Alexander and Hess captured that perfectly. Which, in spite of the little complaints I had, really made this book, well, sing.

Mask of Shadows

by Linsey Miller
First sentence: “The thick, briny scent of sweat-soaked leather seeped through my cloth mask.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: August 29, 2017
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some mild swearing, one f-bomb, and lots of violence. I’m pretty sure it’s okay in the YA section (grades 6-8), though with a caveat for younger, more sensitive readers.

Sal Leon is  many things: a refugee from a war, of which they were the only survivor of their people. A thief. Ambitious. Reckless. And set on revenge for the lords who were responsible for the razing of their land. So when they come into the possession of an audition poster for the Queen’s Left Hand — a group of highly trained assassins in the service of the queen — Sal decides to take the chance. But little do they know that the trial is to the death, and that there will be many obstacles in their way.

Okay, so writing Sal as a they is a bit awkward, but since Sal is gender fluid — sometimes a she, sometimes a he, and sometimes a they, as Sal puts it — it makes it kind of difficult to describe. And yet, while the gender fluidity was part of the story (Sal was often annoyed when people didn’t get their gender; they did what they could to help people “get” it, but some characters were willfully obtuse), it wasn’t the whole story. There was so much more to love about the book.  Miller has a fantastic grasp of world building, giving us enough information to help us understand the world, but not going into long tangents about the history (though there is one attached at the end, if the reader is interested). There was magic in the world, but that was banished, which leaves for some intriguing subplots (and maybe some more exploration in the sequel?), but mostly this is a straight up survival book: Sal needs to survive the trials and become the new assassin if they want to enact revenge. It’s written in first person, and Sal’s life/head is a good place to be: they are smart, intuitive and a creative survivor. The book is also populated with a lot of fantastic secondary characters, from the servant Sal gets when they join the trials to the other members of the Left Hand. It’s a brutal book: in a trial to the death, there is bound to be people killed that the reader cares about. All that gives it heft, though, and shows that Miller’s not afraid to tell the story that needs to be told.

An excellent debut novel, and I can’t wait to read the sequel.