Sold

by Patricia McCormick
First sentence: “One more rainy season and our roof will be gone, says Ama.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is violence toward women and a (non-graphic) rape scene. It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Lakshmi is a 13-year-old girl in the mountains of Nepal who is just getting by with her mother and step-father and baby brother. Their existence isn’t great: they depend on the weather to make sure their livelihood — growing rice — is secure, and Lakshmi’s stepfather is a gambler and a drunk, spending all their money on cards and booze. Still, it’s not a terrible life. That is, until one monsoon season wipes out their entire crop. There’s nothing else to pay their debts with, and so Lakshmi’s stepfather sells her to a buyer that’s passing through. Lakshmi thinks she’s off to be a maid, and that the wages will go home to her family. Turns out, though, that she’s been sold into slavery, and that her “job” is prostitution. (I loathe to use that word, because I feel it implies some sort of choice, and Lakshmi has NO choice in the matter; in fact, she’s drugged and repeatedly raped at the beginning since she’s unwilling to do what she’s told.)

Eventually, some well-meaning Americans come in and shut the business down and rescue the girls who want to be rescued (go white savior moment?) but there’s a lot going on culturally with the girls.

This is such a hard book to read. Not technically; it’s written in loose prose verse (they weren’t simple enough to be poems, but it wasn’t really a prose book either), and so it went quickly, but emotionally? It packs a wallop of a punch. Toxic masculinity and patriarchy and class divisions are going to kill us all. That someone would sell their child to be a sex worker, that men would want to come visit them, that women would imprison these girls for their own gain? It’s a lot to stomach and it makes me feel both incredibly angry and incredibly hopeless.

It’s an excellently written book, and I’m grateful someone told their story (even if it’s a white woman). Even if it is emotionally draining and difficult.

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The Circuit

by Francisco Jimenez
First sentence: “‘La frontera’ is a word I often heard when I was a child living in El Rancho Blanco, a small village nestled on barren, dry hills several miles north of Guadalajara, Mexico.”
It’s out of print, unfortunately. I found a copy at the library.
Content: It’s a series of short chapters, fictional but with an autobiographic feel. It’s in the teen section at the library, but I really can’t figure out why.

This is basically the fictionalized autobiography of Jimenez. He doesn’t bother to change the names of his family (maybe of the other characters?) or even of the situations he finds himself in over the time that his family — he’s the second of seven children — spent as migrant workers in California. This book covers the time they entered the United States (his father had a green card; his mother, older brother, and he were all undocumented. His younger siblings were all born in the United States) through the time when, in high school, his older brother was picked up by ICE. (Though he doesn’t go into what happened after. Just that he was picked up.)

Jimenez does an amazing job making the migrant worker’s life come to life on the page: the back-breaking labor, the constant moving to follow the work. Not just for his parents — there was a scene when his father was sitting in their meager tent, smoking cigarette after cigarette, cursing the rain that wouldn’t stop and that was ruining the crops and therefore their livelihood that really brought it home to me — but also for the children, how they couldn’t start school until after the cotton crop in November, how they moved often so he went to multiple schools in the course of one school year.

It makes one think about where one’s food come from. Who is out there picking the crops, and what kind of conditions they live in. And yes, it made me think about immigration — this story took place beginning in the 1940s — and the way they are treated, not just by the government but also by business owners. It’s not an easy thing, politically, but I think we often forget that there are people on the other end.

At any rate, it was a fascinating little book.

With the Fire on High

by Elizabeth Acevedo
First sentence: “Babygirl doesn’t even cry when I suck my teeth and undo her braid for the fourth time.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, one almost sex-scene, and frank talk about teenage sex. It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Emoni is many things: Afro-Puerto Rican. A mom. A senior in high school. And most importantly, someone who loves to cook.

As she starts her senior year, she’s navigating her world: co-parenting with her ex, Tyrone, and taking more responsibility for their daughter. Her relationship with her abuela and her absent father. And her final year at high school. She wasn’t really expecting any challenges, but she is thrown for a loop: her school has just added a culinary arts class. And she wants to take it, but will she be able to handle the pressure from a working chef.

This isn’t a novel in verse like Poet X is but it’s still just as lyrical. I thoroughly enjoy Acevedo’s writing, and her celebration of Afro-Latinx culture. I loved the food in this book, and though she touched on magical realism (I really love it when food makes people feel/do things) she didn’t really go there. I loved Emoni as a character, and her struggle to overcome the results — the baby — of a bad decision she made when she was 15. I loved the support she got from her abuela and friends, and I felt that Acevedo captured some very real emotions.

It was just a delight to read and I can’t wait to see what else Acevedo writes.

Miles Morales Spider-Man

by Jason Reynolds
First sentence: “Miles set the good dishes on the table.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s violence, but not graphic and some mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) but I’d give it to a younger kid who was interested.

Yes, I did pick this up because I adored Into the Spider-Verse. I liked Miles Morales as a character, and I wanted to spend more time with him. Aside from the movie, I have no knowledge of Miles’s backstory or comic history, so I’m pretty much operating blind.

The basic plot is that Miles is kind of tired of being Spider-Man, and mostly just wants to focus on school. Except he keeps getting called into the office, first for leaving class (his Spidey sense was tingling) and then for a minor theft, for which he was totally framed. And it feels like his history teacher is super antagonistic toward him. And maybe it’s not an evil plot to take over the world, but maybe it is.

And on top of all that, he’s struggling with school and friends and fitting it. Not to mention the crisis about being Spider-Man; maybe he’s just not cut out for this.

My first reaction? It was fun, but heavy on the social justice. Not that that’s a bad thing. I liked the book well enough; Reynolds is a great writer and Miles is a great character. But… perhaps I would have liked it more had I been more invested in Miles Morales as a superhero. Coming in with as little knowledge as I did, I kind of felt like I was missing something. I caught similarities between the book and the movie, but it wasn’t enough or deep enough for me to truly love this book.

Obsidio

by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
First sentence: “Perhaps we should get proceedings under way?”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Illuminae, Gemina
Content: There is a lot of swearing, all blacked out, and a lot of violence. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Spoilers for the first two, obviously.

First off: this series is some solid action/adventure science fiction. This one is lacking the aliens or diseases of the others, but deals more on the human aspects of war. We’re back on Kerenza, where for the past seven months (while the previous two books were happening), the people who didn’t escape are now being occupied by BeiTech forces. Who, to be frank, are murderous, awful people. In fact, that’s the central conflict of the book, as we find out how the Illuminae files were compiled (though I wonder how the audiobooks changed from the first, as we learned more) and the conflict between the Hypatia and Heimdall crews. It’s about what happens to humans in time of conflict, and the decisions — and rationalizations — that come from it. Kaufman and Kristoff are also exploring the consequences of decisions made by the AI without the aid of emotion.

And, yes, this one has two new characters to add to the mix. And while we weren’t given as much time to connect with them, they still were fascinating to read through the twists and turns. And while they didn’t play as big a role as other characters, they were still integral to the plot.

It’s such a good series, maybe made better by being able to read them all back-to-back without waiting in between. I was able to catch small things in the stories that I would have probably missed if I had waited between books. But plowing through them all one right after another is highly recommended.

Gemina

by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
First sentence: “… over seven hundred thousand employees across dozens of colonized worlds.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Illuminae
Content: All the swear words are blacked out, but there’s a lot of violence and some drug use. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Spoilers for the first one, probably.

The nice thing about not reading a series when it first comes out is that you can read them all one right after another. And I remember what happens! That said, Gemina is part of the whole story, and picks up where we left off, but it also it’s own thing.

It’s the space station Heimdall, and everything is going lovely for Hannah and her boyfriend Jackson for their Terra Day plans. She’s got a super cute outfit, she’s about to pick up some dust to make the party super lit. Except, while she’s on her way, the station is attacked by an elite crew of 24 “auditors” (read: assassins) from BeiTech corp, who is still trying to cover up their attack on Kerenza. They have orders to take over Heimdall and open up the wormhole before any survivors reach the jump station.

(There’s a bit of a gap here: how did BeiTech know that there were survivors from the Kerenza attack?)

Anyway. The assassins capture the station, kill the commander (who happens to be Hannah’s dad), and take over. But, a few people Hannah and her drug dealer, Nik, and Nik’s cousin Ella, who’s a hacker, are left on the outside to stop the assassins from completely taking over.

I wondered how this would go over in print, since I adored it so much in audio. And it’s fabulous. I’m amazed that Kauffman and Kristoff could put so much into just documents, text streams, and illustrations, but they do! (since this one is so heavily illustrated, I wonder how it is in audio?) It never got tedious, I adored the reveals as they happened, and I was never too far ahead of the characters. I figured something out, and by the next page, the characters were there as well. It’s quite brilliantly plotted. And they do tension SO very well. I kept having to take breaks as I read because it would just get too much for me to handle. So very very good.

And yes, I’ve got the third already checked out, so I can see how this story ends.

Finale

by Stephanie Garber
First sentence: “Scarlett Dragna’s bedroom was a palace built of wonder and the magic of make-believe.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Caraval, Legendary
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: May 7, 2019
Content: There is some violence, some mild swearing, and some off-screen sex (plus a bunch of passionate kissing). It will be in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Spoilers for the other two, obviously.

The Fates have been released from their cards, Legend is set up to be emperor, and all Scarlett and Tella want is for their mother to wake up. But when she does… she sets off a series of events that lead Scarlett and Tella into their most dangerous game yet: the game for their lives.

All the characters are back: Julian, Legend, and Jacks of course, and there are a huge number of new characters — the Fates — that come into play. On the surface, its a lush, magical, dangerous romp. But, underneath, I think Garber has always been exploring what people will do for love, and the difference between love and obsession. It’s especially clear in this book, and I think it’s stronger for it. I wasn’t terribly impressed with the second in this series, but I think Garber has pulled it together and put out a strong, fascinating, good conclusion.